Michael Schultz has been making movies for more than 15 years; his Cooley High (1975) was touted as the first honest look at life inside black ghettos, and it was one of several comedies (including Car Wash, Disorderlies, Krush Groove, and Which Way Is Up?) that made Schultz famous (and infamous) as a blaxploitation icon. His latest, Livin' Large!, follows his patented formula: equal parts adolescent humor, social commentary, and urban music. Though Schultz is hardly a household name, he's evidently had an influence on the current crop of black directors. ''This is a very exciting period for me, because my early works have inspired some of the younger filmmakers,'' says the 52-year-old Schultz. ''When I ran into John Singleton on a plane, he told me he'd always wanted to make his version of Cooley High and Boyz N the Hood was it.''
Schultz, however, didn't have any such inspiration. ''There were no black filmmakers then,'' he says, ''so I didn't have any role models. I chose theater as a way into film, knowing that if I could get close enough, I'd figure it out.'' Along the way to figuring it out, the director had a spate of highbrow successes in theater and television, including the 1969 Tony Award-winning play Does a Tiger Wear a Necktie? and the 1971 PBS special To Be Young, Gifted and Black.
Schultz is still making comedies about black life. And though his movies sometimes traffic in stereotypes, his message is consistently about the tribulations behind black economic success. ''We all seem to be trying to pass on a philosophy,'' he says, ''that there has to be self-awareness and self-love before real progress can be made.''