Film / Super Fly

A 1972 Blaxploitation film directed by Gordon Parks Jr.

Ron O'Neal stars as Priest, an up-and-coming successful cocaine dealer in New York City. After getting mugged by two junkies, he realizes that his profession will eventually only end in death or prison, so he decides it's time to call it quits. In order to raise money to start a fresh, crime-free life, however, he needs to perform One Last Job by making a 30 kilo deal. Too bad that almost every person he interacts with (save two obligatorily antagonistic white cops) seems to make it their mission in life to keep him in the business...

This film is known for its soundtrack, written and produced by soul singer Curtis Mayfield. Superfly is one of the few films ever to have been out-grossed by its soundtrack. Ironically, in later years, Mayfield came to hate the film, calling it "a TV commercial for cocaine."

Some critics believe the film's glorification of drug dealers serves to subtly critique the civil rights movement's failure to provide better economic opportunities for black America and that the portrayal of a black community controlled by drug dealers serves to highlight that the initiatives of the civil rights movement were far from fully accomplished.

However the filmmakers maintain that it was their desire to show the negative and empty aspects of the drug subculture. This is evident in the movie from the beginning as Priest communicates his desire to leave the business. As said above, nearly every character in film, with the notable exception of his main squeeze, tries to dissuade Priest from quitting; their chief argument being that dealing and snorting is the best he could ever achieve in life. This contrast underscores a major theme in artistic works - the individual vs the group collective.

This film provides examples of:

  • Anti-Hero: Priest is an unscrupulous and violent cocaine dealer, but is trying to get out of the business and live an honest life. Another character remarks that he has no relevant job skills to make a living outside of crime, and adds that he does not have the stomach to be a pimp.
  • Badass Longcoat: Priest has a lot of 'em.
  • B-Movie
  • Big Applesauce
  • Big Bad: Deputy Commissioner Reardon, the Dirty Cop controlling Harlem's drug trade.
  • Blaxploitation: Hailed as a Trope Codifier and one of the very best.
  • Briefcase Full of Money: Priest takes one from Eddie's apartment, and then pulls a switch (see Genre Savvy below).
  • But Not Too Black: O'Neal is quite fair-skinned; at one point a character in the film calls Priest "white-looking". He responds by punching him.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Priest is seen early on training in martial arts in a gym. It comes in handy in the end.
  • Crapsack World: Harlem's socioeconomic state is so bad that drug dealing is considered the only realistic way to make money. Also, the cops are controlling the drug trade.
  • Dirty Cop: The narcotics detectives that are in fact running the cocaine business in Harlem. Deputy Commissioner Reardon is head of the drug ring.
  • Drugs Are Bad: If the filmmakers' claims are to be taken as true.
  • Fanservice: There's the nude lady in Priest's bed in the opening scene, there's the prolonged bathtub sex scene with his girlfriend Georgia, and then there's the high-class white lady wearing a transparent body stocking.
  • Genre Savvy: Priest, anticipating Eddie will betray him, has his girlfriend come to Eddie's apartment building with an identical briefcase that they switch out for the Briefcase Full of Money that Eddie gave Priest. This saves Priest's life.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: Scatter's murder is staged as a drug overdose.
  • The Mafia: Some wiseguys approach Priest and Eddie with an offer of protection against any Dirty Cop trouble. Priest eventually takes them up on it.
  • The Man: Eddie's take on why they're drug dealers. "I know it's a rotten game. It's the only one The Man left us to play."
  • Nice Hat: Priest loves his fedoras.
  • One Last Job: Priest's idea is to get thirty keys of coke, sell it for street value of a million dollars, and then get out of the life. Unlike the way this trope usually works, out, he actually does escape with his life.
  • Resignations Not Accepted: The corrupt cops will not let Priest quit the cocaine business.
  • Sharp-Dressed Man: Priest, always.
  • Suspiciously Apropos Music: Critics worried that the film glorifies the drug life might also note Mayfield's soundtrack, which decries the very things responsible for people like Priest and his business associates. (Note the song that plays over the opening credit sequence, which is about a desperate junkie.)
  • Title Drop: Priest's coke is described as "super fly". Then there's Curtis Mayfield's Title Theme Tune.
  • Victoria's Secret Compartment: Where Freddie's girlfriend stores the roll that Freddie gets from Priest.