Shaft officially marked the beginning of the Blaxploitation era. Since it’s Black History Month, I thought I’d talk about the original black action hero. John Shaft is a black private dick that’s a sex machine to all the chicks. He is the man who will risk his neck for his brother, man. The cat that won’t cop out when there’s danger all about. This cat Shaft is a bad mother (shut your mouth), well you get the idea. He’s a complicated man, but no one understands him but his woman. Shaft is such a black icon that I was shocked to learn he was originally written as a white man.
The original novel depicted John Shaft as a white private detective, but all that changed when newcomer Richard Roundtree was cast in the part. Suddenly Shaft was a take charge leading man that African Americans could root for. Shaft was a dignified presence with a groovy afro and stylish turtlenecks draped in leather trench coats. The movie itself was very low budget, but so successful that it launched a whole line of movies with a mostly all black cast and crew. Although Shaft is actually a pretty slow building old fashion detective film.
John Shaft jokes around with the police chief, has a run in with some Harlem gangsters, and agrees to help find the big bosses kidnapped daughter. Starting a race war between her Italian mob kidnappers and the black men Shaft recruits from Harlem. All the while living up to his sex machine status by sleeping with women of any race. Shaft is actually pretty subtle for Blaxploitation. People won’t remember Shaft’s 1971 movie as much as his badass theme song. Isaac Hayes became the first black composer to win an Oscar with his Best Original Song winning “Theme from Shaft.” A hip composition with funky beats that build up to those iconic lyrics. All I can say is “Right on” Shaft.
Followed by: Shaft’s Big Score!
2 thoughts on “Can Ya Dig it?”
Oh, I remember it well, Ha! I was about 8 or 9 years old by the time it played on television and it was a big deal. Yes, the song was an even bigger hit than the movie, but the movie made a big impact–big enough that I felt the wallop in 1970’s West Texas. That was pretty impressive, trust me.
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I can dig it. My mom told me all about its impact. I can only imagine.
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