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Why Grandpa From Family Reunion Looks So Familiar

Multi-cam sitcom Family Reunion is returning for a second season of fish-out-of-water comedy this April on Netflix. The show follows the McKellans as they move from Seattle to Georgia in order to be closer to family, including their old-fashioned grandparents, M'Dear and Grandpa. Family Reunion's culture clash between the West Coast clan and their traditional Southern relatives generates laughs, but also brings them closer together over the course of the series.

While Tia Mowry and Loretta Devine aren't exactly strangers to Hollywood, the actor playing Grandpa may appear especially familiar — even to casual viewers. That makes sense, as cast member Richard Roundtree has over 100 screen credits to his name over 50 years in the industry (per IMDb), plus he played a rather iconic role often credited as the first black action hero in the movies. 

Here's why grandpa on Family Reunion looks so familiar.

Richard Roundtree was the legendary Shaft

While Roundtree first found stardom in the world of modeling, he became an icon playing the title character of the 1971 Blaxploitation classic, Shaft. (Shaft!) An elegantly dressed P.I. and womanizer — a man so cool, only Isaac Hayes was worthy of singing his theme song, John Shaft was a black hero unlike any audiences had seen before. Aggressive marketing and Roundtree's charismatic performance meant that the movie became a big hit with audiences. 

Shaft would eventually inspire two direct sequels, a failed TV show, two spin-offs filmed decades apart (both named Shaft and featuring Samuel L. Jackson), and an entire wave of Blaxploitation films that tried and often failed to duplicate the original's success. The role came with baggage for Roundtree. Producers could only see him as John Shaft, and in interviews he described the role as "a gift and a curse." Fortunately, the typecasting didn't stop him from working over the next fifty years.

His film credits range from George of the Jungle to Brick

After Shaft, Roundtree took Hollywood by storm, and although he has repeatedly expressed frustration with the typecasting that plagued him early in his career, he clearly never missed a step ascending the showbiz ladder to stardom. His résumé includes large as well as small appearances in films like George of the Jungle, Se7en, and Speed Racer – it's quite the filmography.

One role in which he particularly stood out was 2005's high school noir Brick. Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and helmed by future Knives Out director Rian Johnson, Brick cleverly adapts the archetypes of the detective story to the daily lives of teenagers waiting for graduation. Roundtree is perfectly cast as a frustrated vice principal acting as the voice of authority to Gordon-Levitt's sneering, pseudo-private eye high schooler. John Shaft had finally become The Man, railing at a detective who can't play by the rules, and the actor commits everything he has to his performance.

 The film impressed critics to the extent that one reviewer commented, "This film is so cool that Richard Roundtree is by far not the coolest thing about it." High praise, but merited.

TV is where Roundtree has found real success lately

All those feature films are nice, but Roundtree has really thrived since the '90s on the small screen, where he's racked up countless guest appearances on shows ranging from The Closer to Fresh Prince. He also worked as a regular cast member on TV even before Family Reunion, even if few remember the likes of Rescue 77 or Buddies

Another example of his small-screen work is the 2013 BET drama Becoming Mary Jane, which features Gabrielle Union as Mary Jane Paul, a successful TV anchor balancing her career with life and love. Roundtree co-stars on the series with Union as her empathetic father Paul. Somehow, the actor found time to appear in 33 episodes of Mary Jane while also performing on Chicago Fire, Star, and Lethal Weapon. Talk about a work ethic.

It was in 2019 then that Roundtree got to come full circle, reprising his classic role in the reboot-sequel, uh, Shaft. In an interview on WBUR from that same year, the actor acknowledged how the role had gotten him typecast, but he was still proud to be remembered for such a legendary performance. 

"My dad said to me once, he was out visiting me in LA and I was complaining about [how] 24/7, the Shaft character comes up, and he says, 'Son, let me tell you something. A lot of people leave this Earth not being known for anything. Shut up.'"