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Super Fly, The Blaxploitation Film That Inspired Generations Of Filmmakers : NPR

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Superfly, lobby card, left to right: Sheila Frazier, Ron O’Neill, 1972.

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Superfly, lobby card, left to right: Sheila Frazier, Ron O’Neill, 1972.

LMPC/LMPC via Getty Images

It’s been 50 years since Sheila Frazier made her big screen debut as Georgia, the girlfriend of cunning drug dealer Youngblood Priest, in the blaxploitation movie classic. super fly.

And Frasier estimates that never in her life has a week gone by without someone mentioning the film since it premiered.

“It’s been 50 years and I’m amazed people are still talking about it,” he says, first thinking it would be great to be in a movie with Ron O’Neill, who played Priest. “Maybe it’s still a reflection of what some of our community are dealing with,” Frazier said.

even those who have never seen super fly Recognize its theme song: a groovy, funky hit written by R&B star Curtis Mayfield that became one of the most successful movie themes of the blaxploitation era. The soundtrack helped turn the film into one of his most profitable films of the time, earning millions while briefly usurping the throne. godfather as the top film of 1972.

Since then, the film’s gritty, authentic portrayal of street life and its flamboyant protagonist (a sharply dressed, karate-kicking drug dealer looking for one last big score before leaving the game) have become a part of future stories. It helped create the archetype that inspired Terror’s Legion. musician.

examination Nino Brown, Wesley Snipes’ flashy gangster in the 1991 film New Jack CityOr Idris Elba’s ruthless drug lord Stringer Bell who wants to stay away from criminals HBO series turns ill-gotten wealth into legitimate business wire.

Even Prince’s soft-spoken, baffling performance as The Kid purple rain I feel like I owe some kind of debt to O’Neill’s intense and enigmatic take on the priest.

In Music, All About Mary J. Blige i am the only woman to the Fishbone version of death of freddy Sample or copy the legendary hits created by Mayfield to amplify the story of the film.


Super Fly, poster, Ron O’Neill, 1972.

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Movies inspired by the streets of Harlem

Still, there are many people who don’t know about the movie super flyincluding the meaning of the title—describes the high-quality cocaine that priests put on the streets.

“Fly was the term back then,” says screenwriter Philip Fenty. super fly“I just put super in it and made a superfly…you may have heard it somewhere but it stuck because it’s cool.”

At the time, Fenty shaft – Another blaxploitation classic released just over a year ago — inspired by New York’s burgeoning black-centric independent film and theater movement. As an executive at her black-owned advertising agency, Fenty wanted to write her own film using the skills she developed in creating commercials.

he saw the 1971 cover story New York A magazine about black drug dealers on the rise in popularity called man with golden noseThen a friend brought a drug dealer to Fenty’s house in New York to warn him.

“He said, ‘Boy don’t square me,'” Fenty said, using slang for acting too harshly and eventually getting caught on film. It was one of the best nights I’ve ever had in my life.”

The friend who brought in the drug dealer was Nate Adams, who grew up with Fenty in Cleveland. According to Adams, when Fenty first suggested they develop a film together, he responded curtly.

“Excuse me for my French. I said, ‘N —- it’s not that they don’t do movies,'” Adams says with a laugh. “We don’t have a chance to make a movie.”

Ultimately, however, Adams delved into the clothing himself to develop the character’s signature look, including Priest’s flashy trench coat and daring hat, and Georgia’s sumptuous fur coat. I found a cheated car to drive. Custom Rolls-Royce style grille and special headlights – driven by a local shoe shine parlor guy.

Fenty teamed up with producer Sig Shore, who helped raise the money. The writer says he had three of his credit cards and Shore had two of his. He also said he got money from two black dentists as well, and director Gordon Parks, Jr. eventually asked his famous father, the legendary photographer/director Gordon Parks. I had to. shaft – For funds. Lacking permits and funding, Adams said, like a guerrilla filmmaker, Teamsters often ran around New York City, dodging his union and police.

“Throughout filming, money was always an issue,” says Adams. “We were out in the street on a night shoot and they were stealing electricity from street lamps and street (lights) to get this done.”

Adams roamed Harlem with Fenty, soaking up the atmosphere of the street life of pimps, drug dealers and prostitutes. And they cast another friend from Cleveland, up-and-coming stage actor O’Neill, as Priest.

Super Fly arrives at a critical time

super fly It appeared at a decisive moment for the movie world.mafia movie classic godfatherReleased a few months ago, , proved that there is a market for antiheroes rooted in authentic ethnic culture (as black-centric movies like Shaft and Melvin Van Peebles did). ) Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song). And black consumers wanted to see movies starring the kind of people they knew.Hip, streetwear who could beat the “guys” (white establishments) at their own game. Wise character.

Priest, who eventually outmaneuvered the corrupt police and got out of life, zipped around in a peculiar vehicle that looked a bit like his Batmobile, looking like a superstar anti-hero for now.

“It was one of those rare times when someone in the inner city won over all the politicians who helped set these things up in our community,” says Frazier.

Of course, another reason the film was such a hit was Mayfield’s soundtrack, which featured hits like: death of freddy And the theme song of the movie. Curtis’ son Todd Mayfield says his father started writing the song shortly after Fenty and Shore gave him the script, while Fat Freddy, one of Priest’s ill-fated dealers, told police He was hit by a car and killed while fleeing from the city.

“There were more Freddie around than Priest,” says Todd Mayfield.He fondly remembers his father sitting next to his video equipment, working on a Fender Rhodes keyboard: “One of the first songs he wrote was death of freddySome of the people who lived in the Bronx and Harlem and elsewhere in New York are the same kinds of people who lived here on the West Side and parts of the South Side of Chicago. “

Curtis Mayfield performs ‘Freddy’s Dead’ on TV show ‘Soul Train’.

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Curtis Mayfield’s hit songs were an important part of the film’s marketing, spreading the word and enhancing the film’s cool factor. He said he criticized the drug trade.

“The soundtrack made these characters multi-dimensional,” he adds. It made me think about them sometimes.”

Drug-dealing antihero creates backlash

But not everyone liked seeing black drug dealers and street life humanized. Groups, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, criticized the film for: super fly They were accused of glorifying horrible people because of their depictions of violence and drug use.

Junius Griffin, then president of the NAACP’s Beverly Hills-Hollywood chapter, is credited with coining the term “blaxploitation” shortly thereafter. super flysaid that such films exploit black people and encourage them to embrace subversive ideals.

Since then, the term “blaxploitation” has expanded to describe the entire genre of film that flourished in the 1970s, featuring black characters as heroes, often in urban settings. Fans of the genre like superstar director Quentin Tarantino use the term as a badge of honor.

Yet Fenty, Adams, and Frazier all say they hate the term.

“I can’t stand it,” says Frazier. “When you saw[James]Cagney’s[gangster]movies and a lot of the movies that dealt with the mafia and trafficking, they didn’t call it white exploitation.”

Todd Boyd, a professor and cultural commentator at the University of Southern California, said: super fly, agree with Fraser. He is depressed and under pressure, even though the Priest is shown driving a cool car with nice clothes and a great car, and lives dangerously before his death. said he was trying to get out of

“There’s a sense of Black power mixed with capitalism and a desire to be a street entrepreneur,” says Boyd. “Turning it into a film gives life’s pursuits a meaning they might not otherwise have.”

super fly It ended up with two half-baked sequels and a 2018 remake movie. Many of the people involved in the creation of the original film have passed away, including Ron O’Neill, Sig Shore, and Gordon Parks Jr., but the film’s influence lives on in hip-hop culture and pop life.

Fenty briefly describes its pop culture longevity.

“We in this country love outlaws,” he says. “He (the Priest) came from below, and the only way to go from below is to become an outlaw.”

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