When you start talking about the iconic films of black cinema, it won’t be long before you get to Shaft. Made in 1971, this film stars Richard Roundtree as a black private eye in Harlem who gets dragged into a private war between the Italian mob and the black gangsters of the city. Yes, I opened a review of Shaft by talking about the actual plot of the film. Now that we got that out of the way, on to the tale of the tape…
Relevance: Directed by Kansas native Gordon Parks (who also cameos in the film), Shaft was both a pop culture and a financial success (made for a little more than a million, it grossed 12). More than some of the indie black films that preceded, it showed Hollywood there was money to be made by making films for black audiences. And the floodgates known as the blaxploitation era officially opened…
Legacy: Take your pick. The classic theme song from Isaac Hayes? The two sequels (Sequels to a mainstream black film?!? How many times has that happened since then?!?) Bringing black pride to the masses? The remake starring Samuel L. a generation later? Any and all of these could be worthwhile arguments.
Craft: Some of the techniques and art design are clearly dated now, but Gordon Parks was always as real as it gets, and Shaft is a film. Not a parody of another film or style, but a film on its own regard. Compared to some of its brethren in the blaxploitation genre, and it’s easy to see why Shaft is still regarded as one of the best films from that era.
Crossover: As much as the song and the artist have been parodied (including self parody, Chef), let’s not forgot that the theme from Shaft won the Academy Award for Best Original Song. The song and the movie were genuine crossover hits.
And on that note, come back later as the film countdown continues with another iconic film. Want a hint? Maybe next time…shitty! A HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!