Film: Shaft

Can you dig it?

They say this cat Shaft is a bad mother
But I'm talkin' 'bout Shaft.

You's know de dojigger. You's know de movie. You's might even know de remake. But do ya' know Shaft?

Shaft is a 1971 Blaxploitation film, directed by Gordon Parks, based on Ernest Tidyman's novel of the same name. It tells the story of an African-American private detective, John Shaft, who travels through Harlem and infiltrates The Mafia in order to find the missing daughter of a black mobster. It stars Richard Roundtree as Shaft, Moses Gunn as Bumpy Jonas, Charles Cioffi as Lt. Vic Androzzi, and Christopher St. John as Ben Buford, along with Gwenn Mitchell and Lawrence Pressman. Isaac Hayes did the theme song quoted above, which has reached Memetic Mutation to the point where it may actually be better known than the movie..

The film was followed by another movie, along with a series of TV movies, following the further adventures of Shaft during the 1973-74 season on The New CBS Tuesday Night Movies. As the series was being aired on network television, the character of Shaft was toned down a fair amount; for example, he frequently worked with the police, instead of being against them as in the original movie. Due to this Executive Meddling, the series was unpopular, and it was quickly cancelled.

In the year 2000, a sequel/remake starring Samuel L. Jackson as the nephew of the original Shaft (Roundtree, in a cameo), also named John Shaft, who works for the NYPD. Christian Bale makes an early appearance as the villain.

In 2014 a Shaft comic book was announced, inspired by the Tidyman novels and written by David Walker of BadAzz MoFo, a blog about Blaxploitation history.

And we can dig it.

For the anime studio, look no further than Studio SHAFT.

Films in this series:

  • Shaft (1971)
  • Shaft's Big Score (1972)
  • Shaft in Africa (1973)
  • Shaft (2000)

"But I'm troping about Shaft/And we can dig it":

  • Angry Black Man
  • Badass Moustache
  • Bad MotherShut your mouth!
  • Bail Equals Freedom: Averted in the remake, which is surprising considering how fast and loose they are with the law in the rest of the movie. When Christian Bale's character jumps (no pun intended) bail by flying to Switzerland, he is immediately arrested the moment he steps foot back on American soil. Of course, he ends up getting released on bail by the judge again (highly unlikely in Real Life, given that he's proven himself a flight risk), making the whole exercise pointless, except as an example of what an entitled Jerkass the character is. The victim's mother shoots him to death on the courthouse steps as he's leaving.
  • Big Bad Duumvirate: Peoples Hernandez and Walter Wade Jr. in the 2000 sequel.
    • Non-Action Big Bad: Walter Wade Jr. is responsible for the murder that occurs in the 2000 sequel, but he has Peoples Hernandez do most of the villainous actions in the movie.
    • Dragon-in-Chief / The Heavy: Peoples Hernandez fulfills this role to Wade Jr. However, he eventually becomes a Dragon with an Agenda after Shaft kills his brother in a gunfight halfway through the movie, getting into a fight with Wade Jr. and stabbing him in the hand in the process.
  • Blaxploitation: A Trope Codifier—usually the first film anyone thinks of when hearing the term.
  • Character Title
  • The Chief's Daughter: Shaft woos an African princess in the first sequel.
  • The Chosen Zero: One of the taglines was something along the lines of "The mob wanted Harlem back. They got Shaft".
  • Cluster F-Bomb: The 2000 remake.
  • Cold Cash
  • Compensating for Something: Played up in the ads. According to a book on blaxploitation films, several theaters had a contest going during the run of In Africa where customers could win a prize if they correctly guessed the length of Shaft's... walking stick.
  • Cowboy Cop: Jackson's Shaft, who when requested to turn in his badge does so by throwing it like a shuriken, causing it to embed itself in the wall next to a judge's head. Awesome? Very much so.
  • Curse Cut Short: The title theme:
    Isaac Hayes: They say this cat Shaft is a bad mother—
    Female Chorus: Shut your mouth!
    Isaac Hayes: But I'm talkin' 'bout Shaft!
    Female Chorus: And we can dig it.
  • Follow the Leader: Shaft essentially was the Ur Example for Blaxploitation, with Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song as the genre's Trope Maker, though not an example.
  • Guns Akimbo: In the 2000 sequel.
  • Hollywood Healing: In the original, Shaft gets shot numerous times with a machine gun. He mysteriously lives.
  • Ironic Echo: "Close it yourself, shitty!"
  • Kick the Dog: In the original, Shaft uses one of the Big Bad's mooks as a human shield, causing the Big Bad to shoot his own mook.
  • The Klan: In the Samuel L. Jackson remake of Shaft, a black man named Trey was dining in a mainly "upper class" restaurant and was racially harassed by a Jerkass white diner named Wade. After ignoring the first few public insults, Trey walks over to Wade's table, cuts two holes in his cloth napkin, and puts it on top of Wade's head, where it resembles a KKK hood, to the laughter of some of the onlookers. Wade responds to this by beating Trey's head in with a metal pole, setting off the plot.
  • Line-of-Sight Name: The main character was named after, of all things, a fire shaft.
  • Missing Trailer Scene: The trailer for the 2000 film originally featured a fight between Shaft and Wade. It didn't make the final cut.
  • New York City Cops: The Remake.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Walter Wade Jr. (played by Christian Bale) in the remake. He's a white supremacist who harasses a black man at a restaurant, and later kills him because the guy successfully dissed him.
  • Rated M for Manly
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Police Lt. Vic Androzzi. He's pretty much the only cop that Shaft is willing to put up with, and frequently helps Shaft out by looking the other way while he takes care of business.
  • Remake Cameo: In addition to Richard Roundtree (noted above), 1971 Shaft director Gordon Parks also has a cameo. He is the chess player that Samuel L. Jackson addresses as Mr. P.
  • Sequel Goes Foreign: Shaft in Africa
  • Shaggy Dog Story: In The Remake, Shaft spends the whole movie trying to get a murderer put in prison... and then the victim's mother shoots the murderer anyways, rendering Shaft's efforts and pretty much the whole movie pointless.
  • Shoot the Hostage: Mob boss Bumpy hires Shaft to get his kidnapped daughter back. Shaft wants proof that Bumpy's daughter is still alive so he goes to meet with the kidnappers, and grabs one of the mooks to try and use him to get Bumpy's daughter back. The kidnapper shoots and kills his own mook, grabs the daughter, then beats up Shaft but doesn't kill him because he has to be alive to tell Bumpy that his daughter is alive and unhurt.
  • Soul Brotha
  • Spin-Offspring: The Remake stars Samuel L. Jackson as the nephew of the original, played by Richard Roundtree in a cameo appearance. Apparently he passed his skills down to him as he's just as badass.

"Any questions?"

Alternative Title(s):

Shaft In Africa