The Wayans family is one of Hollywood’s most influential celebrity dynasties. Their large family tree has birthed several actors/actresses, writers, producers, directors, and comedians. The star-studded family is almost always making headlines. Whether it be for their commentary on trending news, such as Marlon Wayans comments about the notorious Will Smith slap, or for their ongoing contributions to the cultural zeitgeist, it’s clear that the Wayans family are pop culture icons.
The Wayans’ contributions to film and TV helped shape not only Black culture but the mainstream media as well. Take, for example, the groundbreaking sketch-comedy show, In Living Color, which helped launch the careers of Keenan Ivory Wayans, Damon Wayans, Shawn Wayans, Marlon Wayans, Jim Carrey, David Alan Grier, Rosie Perez, Jamie Foxx and Jennifer Lopez. The show, which recently celebrated its 32nd anniversary on April 15, 2022, led the way for more diversity in comedy.
The Wayans family's impact on pop culture certainly doesn’t end there. They have a prominent legacy of shaping the way Hollywood and the mainstream media view comedy and the work of entertainers of color.
Here are 4 indicators of just how influential the Wayans family has been to pop culture over the years.
‘In Living Color’ was responsible for the modern-day Super Bowl halftime show
The Super Bowl halftime show wasn’t always the star-studded spectacle that it is today. Up until the early 90s, the halftime show mostly consisted of marching bands, age-old entertainers, singing ensembles, and cheer routines. In a video interview with ESPN in 2021, Keenan Ivory Wayans explained how the halftime show was just seen as an intermission, and people used the time to go to the bathroom. “All of them were the same,” Keenan told ESPN. “It was just the cheerleaders, it was just a lot of, like, batons dropping, and bands.”
The creators of In Living Color saw the halftime show as an opportunity. On January 26, 1992, the show did a live episode of In Living Color. Viewers turned the channel during halftime to watch the show which primarily featured sketches about football and the Super Bowl. The episode was a hit, drawing in over 20 million viewers and it shifted the focus of halftime shows to be more about entertainment and big headliners. In 1993, the Super Bowl booked Michael Jackson for the halftime show.
The Wayans Brothers set a new paradigm for comedy parody films
The Wayans brothers have a long and illustrious history of making spoof comedy films, that become cultural phenomenons. Take for instance Keenen Wayans’s directorial-debut film, I’m Gonna Git You Sucka (1988). This blaxploitation parody film is easily one of the biggest cult-classic Black films of that era and had a large impact on viewers.
In the 2000s the Wayans gave us Scary Movie, the first of five films in the franchise (although the Wayans only created the first two). Written by Shawn and Marlon Wayans, and directed by Keenan, the Scary Movie films hilariously spoofed cliched horror tropes. The success of this series gave rise to horror movies becoming the primary form of parody for films in the coming years.
Another parody film from the Wayans was a found-footage parody in 2013, titled A Haunted House. Written, produced, and starring Marlon Wayans, A Haunted House mocks found-footage flicks like The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity. The film grossed $60 million and spawned a sequel, A Haunted House 2, which was released on April 18, 2014.
They proved you don't have to make critically acclaimed films to be successful in Hollywood
As far as critics are concerned, the Wayans’ film catalog is subpar at best. The vast majority of Wayan’s films don’t receive a lot of positive reviews from film critics. That said, Wayan’s films still seem to find pop culture success with their audiences, and their movies typically gross impressive numbers. Marlon Wayans’ movies alone have a gross of over $489 million domestically from 7 movies and a worldwide gross of over $847 million.
Despite their underrated films, the Wayans family has an undeniable fanbase. While promoting his film, A Haunted House, Marlon Wayans was asked for his opinion of film critics and their often unkind reviews of his work. “I don’t give a shit. After ‘White Chicks’ I gave up on reviewers. I was just like, whatever. Whatever you guys want to say,” Wayans told Crikey in 2013. “I look at ‘White Chicks’ and it gets one and a half stars and I’m looking at the audience and I’m hearing the thunderous laughter.”
The Wayans Family is often referenced in rap lyrics
As many of us know, having your name referenced in a rap verse is one of the biggest tell-tale signs that you’ve made it into pop culture notoriety. And the Wayans brothers have appeared in various rap lyrics over the years. Some of the most notable include:
- The Notorious B.I.G. on the song One More Chance: “There I is, Major Payne like Damon Wayans, Low Down Dirty even like his brother Keenan.”
- J.Cole on the song Rich N**gaz: “And it made me ashamed that I played the game, Not for more money like Damon Wayans.”
- Redman on the song Pimp Nutz: “I’m in my underwear Like Damon Wayans in Colors, White tee, Air Force got ’em different colors.”
- Wu-Tang Clan on the song Hidden Darts: “They drawers on the floor complaining, Bird ass n**ga, resemble, Keenen Ivory Wayans.”
- Eminem on the song Bang: “Y’all want drama, we can make a scary movie like Marlon Wayans.”
- Master P on the song Plan B: “You be Halle Berry, I’ll be the ghetto Damon Wayans.”