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This week in my film class, I made the students watch Birth of a Nation out of class and Superfly in class to get at depictions of African-Americans in film over the 20th century. The great Gordon Parks directed the latter and while it is a cheaply made blaxploitation flick, it also has some truly great scenes. Like the cocaine montage, which we should all watch tonight.

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  • About 15 years ago the Detroit Institute of Arts did a Gordon Parks retrospective that was terrific. His first film, The Learning Tree, was the first major studio film ever directed by an African American. It was decent, but it wasn’t as good as Shaft. But it was better than Superfly, which was directed by his son, Gordon Parks Jr

    • ThrottleJockey

      I’ve liked loved all those movies growing up. Dolemite, Car Wash (ok, Richard Pryor’s cameo was vastly oversold), Cleopatra Jones, Shaft, Cooley High, The Mack, Uptown Saturday Night. Hell, even though it was late to the party I’d throw in The Last Dragon (hell-ooo, Vanity! And a character named Bruce Leroy–brilliant!) I’ve never understood why they came to be called ‘Blaxploitation’ films. I don’t know any black folks who don’t like love them.

      PS–Had a friend who recently started up a successful small business. After she launched she called me up and said, in homage to ‘Bruce Leroy’, “I am the master!” Cracked me up.

  • Dennis Orphen

    While the movie is by Jr, the use stills in the montage might be influenced by his father.

  • Unemployed_Northeastern

    Probably the only time I will have a halfway legitimate reason to tell the readers of LGM to watch America’s secret national treasure Michael Jai White’s Blaxploitation spoof-homage “Black Dynamite,” so watch Black Dynamite, everybody! I mean, MJW gets in a kung fu battle with Richard Nixon in the Oval Office. So great.

    Here’s the trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=96Y24a0cyCE

    It’s also become a super, super edgy animated series on Cartoon Network. http://www.adultswim.com/videos/black-dynamite/

    • Fighting Words

      A triple feature of “I’m Gonna Get You Sucka,” “Undercover Brother,” and “Black Dynamite” would be a righteous way to spend a Saturday evening.

      • Linnaeus

        Might want to throw Hollywood Shuffle in there.

      • William Berry

        “Foxy Brown” gets my vote.

        Hell, Pam Grier can have my vote any time.

        • I second the vote for Pam Grier.

      • Unemployed_Northeastern

        “Three The Hard Way” is possibly the best actual Blaxploitation movie from the 1970’s. Fred Williamson, Jim Brown, and Kim Kelly in the same movie. Here’s the trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=25RdRdiw2Uo Warner Brothers released a 4-pack collection of old Jim Kelly movies on DVD years ago; it’s great stuff.

    • Pseudonym

      Geez, SPOILER ALERT! Hilarious movie though… Anaconda Malt Liquor gives you ooooooo!

    • wengler

      The Mr. Rogers ep of Black Dynamite is pretty funny.

      • Unemployed_Northeastern

        Absolutely. Also: the Cosby episode, the young Michael Jackson episode, the Roots episode, the Richard Pryor episode, the OJ episode… how this show doesn’t get wider attention or notoriety is beyond me.

        • Pseudonym

          I loved the movie but wasn’t really into the pilot episode of the cartoon… I’ll have to give it another shot.

  • Fighting Words

    Ah, you should have shown your students “The Mack” – THE quintessential 1970’s blaxploitation film. Well, you can still give them extra credit for watching it, maybe with a double feature of “Across 110th Street.”

  • Pseudonym

    No mention of Curtis Mayfield’s brilliant soundtrack?

    • LosGatosCA


      It’s like the inverse of ‘watch the game with the sound turned off’

      Listen to the sound track with the movie turned off.

      • I think Superfly is actually a really successful film that demonstrates a sort of lived experience of 1970s urban black life relatively well, if romanticized. Even without the soundtrack, I’d argue it is an outright good film, as cheap as the special effects and production values are.

        I will also point out that the only actor who is featured in 2 films I am showing in this class is Ron O’Neal, who is of course the Cuban in Red Dawn in addition to playing Priest in Superfly.

        • JS

          I agree. I think you have to have a taste/appreciation for underproduced movies, but if you do, it’s quite good (tho for me it doesn’t begin to compare to Sweet Sweetback).

          ETA: That’s actually a rather unfair comparison—I was just thinking of “blaxploitation” films—but since I wrote it, I’ll leave it.

        • Pseudonym

          I’m a pretty big fan of the movie myself, but you have to admit that the cocaine montage wouldn’t work half as well if it didn’t have one of the catchiest songs ever written playing in the background.

    • random

      For me this is possibly the best soundtrack ever. Definitely one of the most extreme disparities between the goodosity of the soundtrack to the badness of the rest of the movie in film history.

      • Barry Freed

        It’s definitely one of the best soundtracks.

    • JS

      I came on here to say exactly this. Thanks!

  • Tybalt

    I miss coke.

    • LosGatosCA

      New or Classic?

  • Thom

    It’s great that “Be sociable,” appears right below the picture.

  • JR in WV

    So Eric, What did your students think about the films?

    Did they appreciate the techniques of DW Griffith? Was “Birth of a Nation” better than “Superfly” technically?

    Did anyone mention the unabashed racism of BoN? How about the reverse racism in Superfly? Or am I misremembering? I don’t actually know for sure if I ever saw it all the way through in one sitting… Now I’m embarrassed.


    Anyway, what was the class discussion like?????

    • The discussion was actually kind of lame. I find I have trouble getting students to talk about films effectively. They were horrified by Birth of a Nation, but almost because it was too long as much as the racism.

      I don’t really think Superfly is racist toward whites.

      • Crusty

        Despite the effort of starbucks, I think most people don’t want to talk about race, period. Consciously or unconsciously, I think your students know that something will be misunderstood, taken out of context, etc.

      • I’m always surprised at how hard it is to get students — who are, after all, in a film class– to talk about how movies work. At this point I am just hoping that at some point after the course is over something will click and they will start pointing stuff out to their friends or their date or someone.

        • Yeah, I think I kind of just suck at it. Maybe it isn’t me. But maybe it is.

          • Pseudonym

            Have you tried laser eyes?

  • John F

    Either because I’m not quite old enough, or it’s because I’m a white boy from the suburbs, but I hear/see “Superfly” and I think of Jimmy Snuka…

    I loved I’m Gonna Got You Sucker, either because or in spite of the fact I really never saw the movies it was parodying.

  • Captain Goto

    Mario Van Peebles’ tribute to his old man is one of the best things I’ve seen:


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