In Honor of Dr. MLK – Shaft

Shaft is, without a doubt, one of the best movies made in the 70s. Nothing so perfectly captured a movement, a filmmaking style, a music style, and clothing style in one fell swoop like this classic Gordon Parks slice of cinema. Check out my review here, if you wish to learn yourself about Shaft and his views on racial and ethnic harmony.

That’s one of the things I admire most about Shaft, both the movie and the character. Unlike other blaxploitation movies (I’m looking at you, Dolemite), not all white people in Shaft are evil. Hell, Shaft’s friends with every sort of group, and enemies with every other sort of group. You could hang out with Shaft, no matter if you’re white, gay, black, or even a woman. But you better not cross him, ’cause Shaft don’t take no shit off of anybody. How often do you get a strong hero that is so tolerant, especially in the 70’s? Shaft even tolerates hippies, and the History Channel told me black people hated hippies!

Anyway, long story short, Shaft is an excellent movie, and we should all strive to be and dress more like him. So next time some gangster is hassling you, throw his sorry ass out the window.

On a more serious note, Richard Roundtree survived breast cancer in 1993, and has been a tireless advocate for cancer screenings ever since. Make sure you screen yourself (and women on the bus or passed out at the bar) for breast cancer. It’s one of the most common forms of cancer for women, and the deadliest cancers in men after prostate cancer. So seriously, feel a boob and save a life.

Here’s a bonus clip for Newscoma:

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11 Responses to “In Honor of Dr. MLK – Shaft”

  1. Josh Says:

    Dude, how can you neglect to mention the fucking absolutely classic soundtrack courtesy Chef, uh, Issac Hayes?? I mean, the beginning of the film with that sick wah-wah pedal guitar and Shaft just walking around NYC in those totally sick plaid pants. Fucking classic.
    With that said, this is one of my favorite movies from the 70’s that involve black people not acting like complete re-re’s.

  2. Ron Says:

    Well, I just wanted to get the message out that I was offering free mammograms to women ages 18-45 under a certain weight.

  3. thesoulcialmediaproject Says:

    Shaft was a good film, no doubt, though regarding Josh’s comment, this is why I am researching whether the genre was an absolute bonus.

    Blaxploitation film’s had their place in the arena, but what have they truly offered that is positive?

  4. Ron Says:

    Well, they proved that a movie about and for black people could make enough money to be a prudent expenditure for the white studo system, regardless of genre. Without the successful blaxploitation movies of the 70s, do you really think we’d have black heroes in action movies, black-aimed urban comedies, black musicals, etc?

  5. thesoulcialmediaproject Says:

    I agree with your initial comment, though I disagree with the latter. Original, more positive portrayals in film were being written, produced and directed by African-American’s in the early 1900’s beginning with Oscar Micheaux.

    My answer to your question is yes. I do not believe the genre was the end all, be all to African-American film. They offered opportunity, but at what cost?

  6. Ron Says:

    Well, I think we would’ve had those sorts of things eventually, and you’re right that it’s not the end-all, be-all to African-American filmmaking, but I think that the mainstream exposure that something like, say, Shaft recieved really helped open up black filmmaking to a wider, whiter audience. Not that black filmmakers need a white audience, but buying tickets is always appreciated.

    Until you mentioned him, I’d never even heard of Oscar Micheaux, but I do know someone like Melvin Van Peebles. I think the fact that these films were so successful and resonated so powerfully with the black community at that time are why we have mainstream directors/stars like Spike Lee (and lead directly to Robert Townsend’s EXCELLENT Hollywood Shuffle and Mario Van Peebles’ Baadasssss!). Tyler Perry became a millionaire on the chitlin circuit, but I’d only heard of him in passing until his big hit movie came out.

    Did they offer the best portrayal of black people? Probably not, but I don’t think any movie, particularly an action film as most of these were, offers a good portrayal of ANY race. But I think the exposure itself is what was beneficial, without being as negative as one might assume. It shows that, in spite of race, black and white audiences like the same things: people being shot, topless women, and cars blowing up.

    I mean, you can’t compare Slaughter to something like Citizen Kane, but you can compare Slaughter to Death Wish, or compare Blacula with a Hammer Dracula tale. You can’t really compare blaxploitation movies with mainstream cinema, but you can compare them favorably with other low-budget cinema from the 70’s, like most of Roger Corman’s output.

  7. Ron Says:

    I don’t think Bert I. Gordon set white people back, so I don’t really believe that D’Urville Martin (or whoever) set black people back, basically.

  8. thesoulcialmediaproject Says:

    Your summation is excellent. I agree. I’m not saying blaxploitation set African-American film back, I’m trying to look at a deeper issue here. I’m playing devils advocate, that’s the only way to get an accurate depiction.

    The portrayal of African-American’s in media, the historical preservation of positive films, the development of themes over time, and the current state of portrayal are topics of interest for me. It’s great to get feedback from someone well versed on the genre.

    All in all, blaxploitation offered much to the realization African-American’s had talent in filmmaking. The only thing is, the pressure they were under to portray a particular lifestyle that would crossover is still affecting film today. The lifestyle they were forced to portray is the very reason the (x-)ploitation is the root of the word.

  9. Ron Says:

    You’re very right. I love playing devil’s advocate. I end up doing it quite often myself, just to get out of my comfort level and take a look at the issue from the other side.

    I do agree that there’s still pressure for certain methods of appearance, but I think it’s actually the inverse of what the norm was. Before, blacks were expected to act like a Sidney Poitier well-spoken sort in Hollywood pictures so they could gain approval of the white community, and in the blaxploitation kind of picture you had to act more streetwise, tough, etc. Not a lot of middle ground there.

    It seems like blacks are forced to act ‘street,’ for lack of a better term, to gain approval from the black community. It seems more prevalent in music than in the film world, where things seem more accepting for the middle-class black American these days. You see a greater degree of what I can only assume are average black characters nowadays (at least, characters like the black folks in my neighborhood).

    Prominet black character roles in Hollywood are less defined by their blackness and more by other personality traits, which is good news all around, and I think you’re more likely to see black main characters in integrated casts in color-neutral roles. I can’t speak for every film, but when I see a film with a black actor in a major role, it’s not one of the old stereotype roles.

    It’s great to have someone to talk about this kind of stuff with, especially someone who is interested and able to teach me about movies and people I’d never heard about before. I’m going to be looking up Oscar Micheaux on my next trip to the botique video store or on Netflix.

  10. thesoulcialmediaproject Says:

    I must say, very well written and very well thought out. You have made some excellent points. Yet, there is still this nagging sensation in the back of my brain. Everytime I see a new film released targeting the urban market, I cringe.

    The films you speak of that are color-neutral with African-American’s cast in major roles are 21st century crossover films. Think about it. I Am Legend? I, Robot? Hitch? Notice what these films have in common? Will Smith. The others like Soul Plane, Barbershop, Beauty Shop, Norbit, I could go on and on, are the original blaxploitation wrapped in technological advance released in a new century.

    Even Barnyard had references to “the sassy” black girl. Ice Age with Latifah had subtle references. We’re talking children’s films! Media affects the culture it is dispersed to, in turn, it creates a cycle of perception worldwide that is not always true. This disturbs me.

    Great talk!

  11. Ron Says:

    I can see your point there with some of those movies, but I think you could make the argument that Eddie Murphy in a lot of his live-action roles (even Donkey, though he does have some references that are a bit urban) are pretty crossover by nature. I haven’t seen Norbit, but Dr. Doolittle was Jerry Lewis. Jiff and Kitt Ramsey from Bowfinger could’ve been anyone, white or black (Jiff was another Jerry Lewis nerd roll, and Kitt reminded me most of Steven Seagal or Tom Cruise in the way Eddie played him). There are references, but I’m not sure how many of those are written in, and how many of those Eddie Murphy ad-libs to reminds that he’s still the Eddie Murphy we knew from his hilarious 80’s stand-up.

    The recent Ice Cube movies are also pretty race-neutral on the surface. XXX State of the Union and Ghosts of Mars were just action films (Cube’s XXX felt a lot like Kurt Russell’s Snake Plissken to me). Are We Done Yet? is a remake of a 1948 movie. Are We There Yet was kind of like National Lampoon’s Summer Vacation with Chevy Chase. The awful Taxi movie Queen did with Jimmy Fallon was a remake of a French film. And of course the Will Smith roles you mentioned.

    I just think that these are the sorts of roles that black actors just plain wouldn’t have gotten before, but I can see how and why a lot of those movies mentioned would remind you of the old blaxploitation movies, and why some of those references would disturb you. I’m just not sure who you might say is the cause of it.

    Like, Barbershop was written by black men (one of them born in England), as was Soul Plane. I’m not sure if those movies were written that way because that’s what African Americans want to see, and they’re just targeting their audience or what, but at the same time a movie like Soul Plane or Barbershop does absolutely nothing outside the borders of the US, and I’m sure in a movie like Ice Age (though some of that I attribute to how Queen played her Woolly Mammoth) or Barnyard, in non-English environments, a lot of that stuff that plays off the sassy black girl stereotype doesn’t survive translation or cultural differences.

    I know I have certain expectations when I go to see certain movies that cater to the audience I consider myself a part of. I think there’s a lot of comfort in conventions, regardless of your community or who they’re marketing to. I expect certain things from a horror movie or a movie with Samuel L. Jackson. I think an urban comedy film has its own conventions, and movies within the genre can still be good and not as offensive as a Soul Plane (like Friday, which I think is great).

    I don’t think urban comedies, in and of themselves, are horrible things (though some of them are horrible movies!) for African-American culture. Blaming some of the bad movies in that genre for negative stereotypes is kind of like me blaming Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector for negative public perception of Southern whites as dumb rednecks. I think the audience it’s intended for is able to get the joke, and there’s more laughing with than laughing at going on thanks to limited appeal outside that market.

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