Blaxploitation: 1. The exploitation of Black people, especially with regard to stereotyped roles in movies. 2. An ethnic sub-genre of the exploitation film that emerged in the United States in the early 1970’s.
The original Super Fly was produced in 1972 on an estimated budget of $58,000. They got all their money’s worth as the film was one of the Top Ten grossing films of the year and Curtis Mayfield’s soundtrack was nominated for two Grammy’s; Best Soundtrack and Best R & B Album. Super Fly came out on the heels of “Shaft” and “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song.” It helped open the doors for more blaxploitation flicks including “Cleopatra Jones,” “Uptown Saturday Night,” and arguably “Enter The Dragon,” starring Bruce Lee. Whatever you think of the blaxploitation era, it created black stars and provided hundreds of jobs in the film industry. Some of the actors were able to crossover and become fixtures in mainstream Hollywood. It gave us soundtracks featuring Earth, Wind and Fire, Isaac Hayes, and Mayfield, all are classics still getting airplay. These films also helped perpetuate stereotypes that live on in America. Blaxploitation had a place and a purpose, many were glad to see it go.
SuperFly (2018) is an updated remake of the original film. Set in Atlanta instead of New York. We see many of the same characters who’s fate was predetermined when we first heard their names. When Freddy was first introduced, we all knew it was just a matter of time before he was killed, based on the original film and one of the hit’s from the first movie, “Freddie’s Dead.” The movie ambitiously attempted to duplicate the success of the original soundtrack with the 2018 version produced by Future and featuring Rick Ross along with Young Thug, Scar, Little Wayne and others. Ultimately, the music worked best when they used short clips from the original Curtis Mayfield soundtrack in critical scenes.
Regarding the film itself, there was some outstanding acting by star Trevor Jackson and the always captivating Michael K. Williams. The rest of the cast did what they could with the material, stereotypical as the roles were. Director X, with most of his experience doing music videos, did well with showing us the bling but the story itself was jumpy and the pacing uneven. One example was the aforementioned Freddie, who was literally not worthy of Priest’s (Trevor Jackson) attention but when he died we were meant to believe he was a critical figure in the film, beloved by all? If they wanted to make his death important, they needed to establish the character, which never happened.
My harshest criticism is about the need for the film itself. A question I’m still asking is, “Do black filmmakers have a responsibility to advance the culture in their work?” On one level the film is entertaining… if that was the only goal it worked. It glorifies drug dealers, strippers and guns with plenty of gratuitous nudity and violence. There is not a single character you could point to and wish your son or daughter followed their lead. Even Priest abandoned his code when faced with opportunity/danger, first going around his mentor to achieve his own goals and later selling him out when it became a him or me situation. One constant theme was that there truly is no honor among thieves.
I should have been part of the target audience for this movie; someone who’s seen and liked the original. Instead I worry about the message it was sending and what the producers had in mind? Maybe I’m just a hater for wanting more from the films we make and expecting us to get a little more than simply entertainment? We never saw the harm done in the community by the cocaine around which the film centered. Even the girl that accidentally got shot got paid $50K. The drug culture isn’t no harm no foul, would showing that have been too much to ask?
The ending leaves us set up for a possible sequel. Priest achieved his goal and got out of the game, taking a lot of money with him. Events at home could easily bring him back for another sequel, “Return of Super Fly.” I’m hoping Priest just stays gone.