Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Can Ya Dig It?

Shaft(1971) was one of the first black films to do well in the box office. I think it is great that Parks was able to break down barriers in cinema that prevented prior black filmmakers from reaching success. I think the main reason why Shaft was so successful is that it appealed to the black audiences instead of trying to reach white audiences. Although Shaft was a huge success, I don’t necessarily think it was a great movie. It was just one more in a long line of exploitation films ridden with sex and crime, only the writers, directors, and actors happen to be black. Shaft remains an important film because it created a market for more black films to be produced, not because of its quality. The best part of the movie was the funk music by Isaac Hayes that won an Oscar for best music, original song.

So the question is why Shaft did so well in theaters. The simple answer would be because John Shaft is cool. He’s a private eye and a total badass. He’s a “sex machine” and a bit of a gangster. Shaft never loses his cool from beginning to end. He starts out walking down the street making traffic stop for him. The movie ends with him saving the day, and making Vic Androzzi clean up the rest. Not only can he beat up other gangsters and throw them out windows. He seems to have control over white men too, at least over Vic Androzzi. I think this idea that a black man could be himself, be gangster, and be successful in a white dominated law enforcement industry is why John Shaft has become such an icon.

John Shaft is definitely cool, but is he moral. As the theme song states, “he’s a complicated man.” I think the argument could go either way; there is plenty of evidence supporting both sides. Shaft did execute several mafia members and slept around with lots of prostitutes. His ventures in gangster life make us think that Shaft is an immoral man that’s motivated by money, sex, and his own ego. However, there are several small scenes throughout the movie where we see Shaft as a kind individual. He gives a young boy some money for food, and pays the woman whose door he breaks down. Most importantly, I believe that Shaft is willing to help Bumpy find his daughter because she is innocent. Bumpy is one of Shafts enemies and I don’t think Shaft would be willing to help him just for the money. Overall I think that Shaft is a moral person that is helpful to those who are innocent, but shows no mercy to the gangsters or mafia.


  1. Great post, like the links and layout.

    Could we take away some of Shaft's complexity and allow him to still be cool? I ask this out of trying to figure out which of his traits are the most important for his cool?

  2. I completely agree with your assessment of the movie. While I thought Shaft was undeniably cool in many ways, I did not think the entire movie was great. I have seen numerous movies of the same type, and none of them have ever stuck out enough to be great in my opinion. I did enjoy the character though, and would never disagree with anyone who considered his complexity and passion cool.