SUPERFLY (director: Gordon Parks Jr.; screenwriter: Phillip Fenty; cinematographer: James Signorelli; editor: Bob Brady; music: Curtis Mayfield; cast: Ron O’Neal (Youngblood Priest), Carl Lee (Eddie), Shelia Frazier (Georgia), Julius Harris (Scatter), Charles McGregor (Fat Freddie), Yvonne Delaine (Mrs. Freddie), Nate Adams (Dealer), Polly Niles (Cynthia), Mike Richards (Deputy Commissioner); Runtime: 93; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Sig Shore; Warner Bros.; 1972)
“Probably the best film of the blaxploitation experience.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Probably the best film of the blaxploitation experience. Blaxploitation films had a run from 1970 to about 1977; they exploit the black audience by not delivering the black heroes as promised. These controversial films drew in a large number of black youths but drew criticism from an older black audience because they glorified the pusher, degraded black women and left a poor image of blacks. Though these films had some positives: showing how corrupt the system was, that blacks can be assertive to get ahead and brought to the table many important political issues the black community was interested in. It’s directed by Gordon Parks Jr., the son of Gordon Parks (“Shaft”) a noted pioneering black filmmaker, who in my opinion has a more powerful and convincing style than his father but never met with much success after this film. This escapist flick comes with a surprisingly bleak message questioning the American Dream, in this case: a fancy car, fine vines (clothes), enough cocaine to snort every day, eight track stereo, color TV in every room, great pad and beautiful chicks. It relies on a familiar plot line in the crime genre of a criminal wanting to make one big score before retiring.
Ron O’Neal is the arrogant hotshot drug pusher Youngblood Priest, the Superfly character, who has everything a fly dude can want but plans on retiring after selling thirty keys of cocaine for a million bucks, which he will split with his reluctant to leave the business shifty partner Eddie (Carl Lee). Fly is the black term for being hip, and Superfly therefore must be mucho hip. This Superfly character is so cool that he flamboyantly dresses in long, sweeping coats and large wide-brimmed pimp hats and has one beautiful white chick (Polly Niles) and one beautiful black chick (Shelia Frazier) who both fawn over him.
The film has an authentic look as it takes you from mid-town Manhattan luxury pads to Harlem tenements following the pusher man around the sinister streets and all the urban decay. Priest contacts his elderly mentor Scatter (Julius Harris) in his Harlem nightspot to score the thirty keys, snorts coke from his crucifix, bathes with his black chick, deals fairly but harshly with a family member who short-changes him, spars with the Black Panthers and then gets his “family” to push the drugs on the street. The final deal after four months is with the crooked cops who want to own him, as it boils down to an in-your-face confrontation between him and the white cops. That the black man finds a way to beat the Man by using his street smarts, becomes the whole point of the movie.
The film is also noteworthy for the snazzy musical score by Curtis Mayfield, whose smart lyrics enhance what’s happening on the screen and make this B-film seem more important than what it really is.
REVIEWED ON 6/10/2006 GRADE: A-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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