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Viewers of American Gangster might have wondered about the fate of heroine kingpin Ellsworth “Bumpy” Johnson, who dies in the movie’s opening scene (of natural causes, mind you). On par with Al Capone or Billy the Kid, Bumpy Johnson was, in fact, a cult criminal and an underworld legend, but known almost exclusively to the people of Harlem, where he ran the drug trade for thirty odd years until the 1960s.
After receiving many nods in films like Hoodlum, Escape from Alcatraz, and Shaft, the story of Bumpy Johnson (played by Forest Whitaker, who also acts as producer) takes center stage in Godfather of Harlem. Co-created by the people behind Narcos, the series opens when Johnson is released from Alcatraz after a long sentence in 1963, when he returns to Harlem to find that much has changed. With the aid of civil-rights activist Malcom X (played, of course, by Nigél Thatch), an out-of-touch Johnson strives to reclaim his old neighborhood from the Italians in an all-out war.
Part deep-diving gangster epic, part 60s period piece with a modern sensibility, Godfather of Harlem has it all: gritty drama, great writing, swanky 60s style, and an awesome soundtrack.
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