28 Days of Black Movies: ‘Harlem Nights’ is an all-star Black comedy classic

OPINION: The 1989 film features a powerhouse class of Black Hollywood royalty that will keep you laughing the entire hour and 56 minutes.

Eddie Murphy, Richard Pryor and Danny Aiello in “Harlem Nights.” (Paramount Pictures)

Eddie Murphy. Della Reese. Redd Foxx. Richard Pryor. Robin Harris. Arsenio Hall. Jasmine Guy. Lela Rochon

The cast list alone draws you in. Come for the people. Stay for the laughs. 

I remember the anticipation when Harlem Nights was coming out. We knew Eddie Murphy and Richard Pryor were putting together a movie for us by us. We knew it was going to be exceptionally funny. We had no idea what we were in store for. 

Murphy and Pryor play Quick and Sugar Ray, two partners running a nightclub and after-hours spot where the Harlem elite come to eat, drink, dance, listen to music and gamble. Because their business is so successful, they have to contend with a lot of drama from local gangster Bugsy Calhoune (Michael Lerner) and the police on his payroll, including Sgt. Phil Cantone (Danny Aiello). 

Calhoune is trying to muscle Ray and Quick out of their business so he can take over, but you know Black folks not going out like that. 

Ray and Quick come up with a brilliant plan to turn the tables on Calhoune, and the hilarity that ensues as they carry out the plot gives this movie some of its funniest parts. 

“Harlem Nights.” (Paramount Pictures)

Seriously, this is one of those films where you literally laugh during every scene. From Vera’s (Reese) “honest ho” speech to Redd Foxx’s Bennie and his Coke bottle thick glasses to Vera and Quick duking it out behind the club, literally everything is funny. 

This is one of those movies I own but still watch every time I catch it on television, no matter what part I catch it on. I also paid to see this movie in the theater four times when it initially came out. Again, it’s that good. 

I know people can be hyperbolic when it comes to our movies because we want to support our people no matter what, but there is no hyperbole when you talk about Harlem Nights. It’s a film that every agrees does comedy right. We all laugh at it, and many of us still quote lines from it. 

My favorite quote: “I’m a honest ho, and all my hoes is honest.”

Murphy wrote, directed and executive produced the film, and it is a testament to the amount of talent he has. It also speaks to the pull he had at the time to get all these Black stars to come along with him on this journey. 

If you haven’t already, you owe it to yourself to queue this up and watch it. Right now, it is currently available on Hulu, HBO Max, Amazon Prime and Apple TV, so you really have no excuse. 

Do it as a tribute to all the legends who appeared in the film and are no longer with us. 

Black culture is American culture, and this movie proves it in every scene. 


Monique Judge

Monique Judge is a storyteller, content creator and writer living in Los Angeles. She is a word nerd who is a fan of the Oxford comma, spends way too much time on Twitter, and has more graphic t-shirts than you. Follow her on Twitter @thejournalista or check her out at moniquejudge.com.

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