Hollywood used to have Truck Turner, Shaft and Black Belt Jones but now, chocolate tough guys are no longer incorporated into scripts in a systematic plot perpetrated by The Man, to do away with images of the Black alpha male. However, one man is out to make a difference. That’s right, he’s Michael Jai White and he’s Black Dynamite. He don’t take no jive and he’s keeping blaxploitation alive with his new movie in theaters Friday, October 16.
First, there was I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, then, there was Undercover Brother, but Black Dynamite is the spoof of all blaxploitation spoofs and Michael Jai White says his flick is outta sight. GangStarr Girl aka Soul Sista Number One found out why this movie is alright!
How were you influenced by Blaxploitation flicks growing up?
I used to enjoy them when I was younger. Now, I sometimes have little blaxploitaiton nights at my house, and we would watch some of the cheesier blaxploitation movies and everyone was encouraged to heckle. Everybody just had a good time but on another level, I really loved what those movies meant because at the time it was the beginning of showing Black people in a more positive life because before then, Black people were only servers and buffoons in movies. This was the first time we had alpha male Black role models that were bigger than life, so being a kid at the time, you would see all these bigger than life images like Jim Brown, Fred Williamson and Richard Roundtree. That was a great boost for young Black kids.
What do you think kids that see it now could get out of Black Dynamite because they might not be aware of the blaxploitation genre?
It’s interesting that when you’re seeing a movie and it’s an action movie, you want to live vicariously through the character. It’s interesting that the audiences have been really responsive to this movie but overseas the audiences have been insane over the movie. In Prague, it was getting standing ovations and in Germany as well. So it’s not just for young Black kids it’s for people in general who like to see bad acting and type of extra macho touch guy swagger.
I didn’t imagine that people oversees would be so receptive.
When the blaxploitation genre occurred back in the 70s, it saved the studio system. Not only were Black people watching those movies, but white people were as well. It’s not uncommon that Back people’s voice of rebellion was adopted by White people⎯it’s always been way. From then to now, look at the advent of hip-hop music and how many White people listen to it. So really it’s quite pervasive, and back in the 70s, when you had shaft he was a bad ass to everyone but especially for young Black people.
What’s the correlation between blaxploitation and hip-hop?
It’s weird because when you say blaxplotiation there’s a couple of things involved in that. Unfortunately, those movies have been stuck with the moniker of blaxploitation, although a lot of them were not exploitative. It only became exploitive when Hollywood found out they could make a lot of money from these movies and then they started cranking them out without much work to the art. Thus, it became exploitative. But as far as the earlier movies like Shaft, Superfly and The Mack⎯those were not exploitive movies, those were dramatically powerful films and there was nothing that was cheap about them. There were a lot of movies like that that followed and then there were a lot of the other ones as well. As far as giving a voice to a movement and a voice to rebellion, in that fashion, hip-hop and the blaxploitation genre are cousins to each other. It’s a definite voice that comes from the street and it defines a lot of views in people that lived beyond the border of the street so that’s one way they’re very similar. It gives a lot of voice to another expression.
Going back to some of the icons like Fred Williamson and Jim Kelly, has anyone of them seen your movie and had you reached out to any of them about a role in the film?
Jim Brown is a personal friend and like a surrogate father to me, and when I was done with my first cut, he and I sat down alone and watched it. It really meant a lot to me that he liked it because a lot of my character was based off of him⎯some of the serious parts and some of the funny parts as well, because Jim Brown was the bad ass of all bad asses and sometimes he had a problem when it came to being tender. That was me poking fun at Jim when Black Dynamite had to be tender and it doesn’t quite work.
[Laughs] Yeah like when he was supposedly “smiling” when he was talking to his love interest, but he had a straight face.
[Laughs] Yeah, and when he was frolicking in the park. Jim Brown doesn’t frolic [laughs] but I thought it would be funny to have a guy like that frolicking in the park, acting silly so that really was inspired by Jim. But I thought to recount for people like Jim Brown and Pam Grier would have been a mistake. It would have destroyed the allusion that this was a pure 70s type of film because if all of a sudden somebody who should have been young back then, pops up as somebody who’s older, then you’ve brought an unnecessary attention to the movie. I wanted it to be a very thought out thing and resist the gimmicks that might go along with this, like cameos from older established blaxploitation heroes and actors. I think that would take you out of the film.
What are some of your favorite blaxploitation flicks?
One of my personal favorites is The Mack. You could show The Mack right now and I think it would be nominated. I challenge people to look at The Mack and Hustle and Flow and realize that Hustle and Flow was basically the modern version of The Mack, just told from another standpoint. It’s just as significant, but The Mack just touched on more powerful things of its time and had more of a political statement in a very politically volatile climate.
I heard a rumor that there might be a remake of Dolemite does that ring a bell? Would you be involved?
Years ago, a woman approached me about doing a new Dolemite and my question is what’s your take on that. If you’re gonna do something like that, it should be well thought out just out of respect. For myself, I don’t know. I’ve done this movie, I don’t wish to make a career out of doing that. We pay homage to Dolemite in our movie with a character named Bull Horn but as far as anybody trying to remake the whole movie, good luck to anybody trying to fill Rudy Ray Moore’s shoes.
Blaxploitation movies often had these really elaborate intros like in Foxy Brown, with the Willie Hutch theme song playing while she’s dancing in front of a colorful background so what’s your favorite intro?
I don’t know if it’s an intro but in Black Belt Jones, that opening is so hilariously cheesy. And the music is like⎯it’s just hilarious in a bad way and the song is really funny. But of course, one of the best intros is in Shaft. That’s just iconic when he’s walking across the street and the camera is aerial, shooting down. I really wanted to pay homage to that shot but we didn’t have the time or the money. But they’ve had some amazing intros. It’s funny you mentioned that Foxy Brown one because I love that music.
What’s some of your favorite Blaxploitation music?
As soon as you said that, I thought about Black Caesar and his stroll through the neighborhood while “Paid the Cost” is playing. I love that music. It meant so much to me and still means a lot to me. How powerful is that image? Where do we strong Black alpha male images nowadays? I mean the ones that will kick your ass and are unapologetically alpha. In every white movie and television show, there’s a white alpha male who’s attractive and smart and gets the women. I can’t think of one Black movie or TV show today where we have that entity in that hue. We have to go all the way back to the 70s to find that. In the 70s, every Black male movie star was judged on the same criteria. We had Jim Brown, Fred Willimason, Billy D Williams, Bernie Casey⎯everybody who was out there was good looking, very male and very dominant. Now, we only have Denzel. He’s pretty much the Sidney Poitier of our time so we do not have the Jim Browns and the Fred Williamsons anymore. It’s something to look closely at as far as what happened. Systematically, those roles are not written and are done away with in a slick way.
Black Dynamite Fun Facts:
-Written by Michael Jai White and Scott Sanders.
– Black Dynamite was originally going to be called Superbad until the other movie with the same title came out first.
–Black Dynamite has been developed into a cartoon. Details are mum right now but it has been picked up by a major studio and partnered with one of the executive producers of The Boondocks.
– Michael Jai White choreographed all the fight scenes in the movie.
CLICK HERE for a review of the movie.