I’m not going to lie. I teared up a little when Barack Obama became President. I mean, I didn’t full on cry—those tears are usually reserved only for Miyazaki movies—but I did wipe away a tear or two when Obama delivered his Inauguration speech. it’s mostly because I never thought I would ever see anything like that in my lifetime. What was that line in that old 2Pac song, "Changes"?: “And although it seems Heaven sent/we ain’t ready to see a black president.” Sure, I loved David Palmer on 24, but that was just television. That couldn’t really happen.
Flashforward to January 20, 2009, and yes it did indeed happen. Not only that, but think pieces were being written up at the time that theorized that maybe it was actors like Dennis Haysbert who made Americans more receptive to a black president. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but what I do know is that art can be very powerful. And these five fictional, black presidents couldn’t do anything but help create confidence in the idea of a black person running the country. So, here they are. The best black U.S. president movie and TV characters, ranked.
Oh, and minor spoilers up ahead.
5. President Sawyer (Jamie Foxx) - White House Down
White House Down is better than Olympus Has Fallen, and that is a hill that I am willing to die on. One thing that’s interesting about both films though is that they would both (at least eventually) feature a black president, as Morgan Freeman took over the reigns as POTUS in Angel Has Fallen. But enough about that inferior film, let’s talk about the superior one. White House Down is a silly movie about terrorists who break into the White House. Jamie Foxx plays President James Sawyer, and he is about as close to an Obama stand-in as you could possibly get.
Channing Tatum plays the Capital Police officer who saves him, but President Sawyer isn’t just some hopeless wuss. Far from it. In fact, he’s the kind of president who will take matters into his own hands… with a rocket launcher! He’s also the kind of president who will stay calm in a hostile situation and even drop a grenade if necessary. Look, I’m not saying that I support a hawkish warmonger of a president. Far from it. But I really do like when my fictional presidents are willing to jump into action and protect her or his life and country, and President Sawyer does that in spades!
4. President Wilson (Danny Glover) - 2012
Roland Emmerich, who also directed White House Down, specializes in disaster movies. That’s like, what he does. So, when he decided to tackle the supposed end of all time on the Mayan calendar, you knew he was going to deliver a big budget bonanza. Well, in the movie, 2012, it’s the end of the world as we know it, and a black man is running the country. And that black man just so happens to be Danny “I’m too old for this shit” Glover. He’s leading the charge, and making all the tough decisions so you don't have to.
I say “hard decisions” because President Wilson has the thankless job of working to initiate a plan for the eventual survivors of the end of the world. He authorizes an arc to be made that will be able to fit 100,000 people on it, meaning that millions upon millions of Americans wouldn’t be able to get on board. Granted, this kind of makes him sound like a bad President, since not everybody can be saved. But when it comes down to starting a new world once the old world is washed away, President Wilson is thinking of the future. A future he would never unfortunately get to see.
3. President Payton (Alfre Woodard) - State Of Affairs
I don’t want to get political since this is about movies and TV, but it kind of broke my heart when we didn’t receive our first female President back in 2016. Now, like I said, I’m not going to get into politics, since you can like who you like. I don’t care. But Alfre Woodard, who played President Constance Payton on the short-lived show, State of Affairs, is the kind of President I want when we do eventually get a female President elected. With her patient approach, and her steadfast adherence to her image as President, she kind of reminds me of Oprah. And look, I’m not saying that I want Oprah to be the POTUS. That said, I’m not saying that I don’t want her to be POTUS, either.
Now, State of Affairs wasn’t a great show. It lasted for one season and starred Katherine Heigl as a CIA agent who brings the President her morning briefing (and was also once engaged to the President’s slain son). That said, Woodard played a phenomenal leader. When intel is brought in that a wanted terrorist is out there and that the military wants to assassinate him, President Payton accepts that it may not be the right time if there isn't a much higher certainty that they'll get him. I just love how patient she is, which is something I always look for in my presidents. Patience.
2. President Beck (Morgan Freeman) - Deep Impact
Morgan Freeman is one of only a handful of actors who've played President more than once (In Angel Has Fallen and Deep Impact) and also God. I mean, Dennis Haysbert has only played the President ONCE and God (In Lucifer). But in all seriousness, Morgan Freeman was the first Black POTUS I’d ever seen, so he raised a high bar in that regard.
What’s great about him in Deep Impact, though is that he’s so calm. He’s the kind of president who can go on national TV and tell the American public simply and directly that because there was a failed mission to destroy a comet, that there will be a lottery for less than a million Americans to be brought underground for safety. And well, tough noogies for everybody else. But he says it in a reassuring way. He doesn't actually say "tough noogies" (though I'm sure Morgan Freeman could make even that sound elegant). One of the most important things an American President can do, at least in my mind, is to try to set its citizen's minds at ease. Morgan Freeman does that as President Beck, even in the face of annihilation, which makes him a president for the ages.
1. President Palmer (Dennis Haysbert) - 24
There was no question who had to be number 1, right? Though President Palmer doesn’t make it all the way to the end of the series -- because of reasons -- for the seasons he was there, he was the calmest, most collected person in the room. Jack Bauer (played by Kiefer Sutherland) could tell him that a bomb was likely to go off in the next seven hours, and President Palmer would simply nod, say in so many words, “I trust you, Jack. Make sure that doesn't happen,” and then pretend that everything is fine to the American public.
In many ways, President Obama was very much like President Palmer. Again, I’m not going to get into politics here, but I will say that for the most part, I felt relatively safe when Obama was in office, and I feel like I would have that same sense of security if President Palmer were my POTUS. Jack Bauer is over here torturing people and shouting, “WHO ARE YOU WORKING FOR?” while President Palmer is over there continuing to do his job as if business is usual. And that, my friends, is invaluable in a president.