Blaxploitation's Main Men | EW.com

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Blaxploitation's Main Men

Blaxploitation's Main Men -- We think ''Shaft,'' ''Three the Hard Way,'' and ''I'm Gonna Git You Sucka'' are some of the best

Black action films had their heyday in the early and mid-’70s, when heroes like Shaft’s John Shaft and antiheroes like Super Fly’s Priest took the screen. With the rise of Me Decade nostalgia and the recent release of The Return of Superfly, there are signs of renewed interest in these gritty, fast-paced films.

Don’t get huffy about the name: Blaxploitation is a widely used critical phrase for black action films. Black Action Films by James Robert Parish and George H. Hill identifies and critiques some 235 theatrical and made-for-TV blaxploitation titles. Below are, in our opinion, some of the best of the bunch:

Shaft (1971)
Regarded as the inspiration for 1970s blaxploitation, Shaft features Richard Roundtree as John Shaft, a world-weary private eye who’s hired to find the daughter of a Harlem mob leader. Shaft, a sort of black Jim Rockford, the James Garner character on TV’s The Rockford Files, becomes reluctantly embroiled in the mess. Directed with gusto by Gordon Parks Sr., Shaft is solid detective fare. Besides a few ”right ons,” it is no more dated than, say, last season’s episodes of Hunter. B+

Super Fly (1972)
The title character, also known as Priest, is a dealer who snorts coke from a gold cross around his neck. He wants out of the drug biz, and his ticket is one last million-dollar deal. Directed by Parks’ son, Gordon Jr., the sizzling Super Fly plops us neck-deep in the muck of the Harlem drug culture. Despite bits of muddy dialogue and cinematography worthy of Police Woman and an unsatisfying ending, Priest is still blaxploitation’s main man. A

Three the Hard Way (1974)
This gem rounds up three of the genre’s leading stars — Jim Brown, Fred Williamson, and Jim Kelly — in a tour de forced, with acting so wooden you could carve your name in it. The trio foils a white supremacist group bent on poisoning the black race through the water supply. Despite its flaws, Hard Way, also directed by Parks Jr., is still great fun. B-

Black Belt Jones (1974)
With more laughs per karate chop than any martial-arts flick, Robert Clouse’s Black Belt Jones stars Jim Kelly as a police ally battling some overcooked Italian mobsters who say ”Mama mia” a lot. Scatman Crothers is oddly cast as Jones’ karate mentor, Pop Byrd. Not to be outdone, Kelly sports a giant Afro and wears baby-blue jumpsuits. B+

I’m Gonna Git You Sucka (1988)
Keenen Ivory Wayans directs and stars in this blaxploitation spoof that pokes fun at all the fundamentals of the form (white villains, funky theme music, mandatory nightclub scenes) and delivers some fine laughs. But like In Living Color, Sucka is often a hit-and-miss affair, and the last quarter of the film is punishingly unfunny. When he’s on, though, Wayans manages to deflate some of blaxploitation’s pomposity. See this only after assimilating the real goods. B-