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Film / Shaft

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"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 and written by Ernest Tidyman, based on Tidyman's novel of the same name.

It tells the story of John Shaft (Richard Roundtree), a tough African-American private detective who travels through Harlem and infiltrates The Mafia in order to find the missing daughter of a black mobster. Also in the cast are 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. It also earned Hayes the "Best Original Song" Oscar, the first ever awarded to a Black musician.


The film was followed by two sequels — only the first of which was based on a Tidyman novel and directed by Parks — along with a series of made-for-TV movies following the further adventures of Shaft during the 1973–74 season of 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.

Two spinoff / sequel / revival films followed, focusing on other members of Shaft's family, in 2000 and 2019. Roundtree reprised his role in both as a supporting character.

Incidentally, Ernest Tidyman, writer of the original novel series and the first two movies, also wrote The French Connection and High Plains Drifter.


In 2014 a Shaft comic book debuted to strong critical reaction, inspired more by the Tidyman novels and written by David Walker of BadAzz MoFo, a blog about Blaxploitation history. Included in each issue of the first arc, A Complicated Man, was a chapter of Shaft's Revenge, the first new novel about John Shaft since Tidyman's death. In Walker's second arc, Imitation Of Life, Shaft gets hired on a low-budget detective film that may or may not be based on his life.

And we can dig it.

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

"That cat Shaft shows up in these other baaad mutha- / Shut your mouth!":

  • Shaft's Big Score (1972)
  • Shaft in Africa (1973)
  • Shaft (2000)
  • Shaft (2019)

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

  • Angry Black Man: The film is basically all about taking this character and portraying him as the most badass motha you can imagine, allowing him to successfully stick it to The Man.
  • Awesome McCoolname: There's something about a name like "John Shaft" that tells you already that he's a bad motherf— Shut your mouth!
  • Badbutt: In the series of TV movies, Shaft got downgraded to a Bad Melon Farmer in order to avoid offending TV audiences.
  • Big Bad: The first film has Lee, The Mafia agent who led the operation to kidnap Bumpy's daughter.
  • Big "SHUT UP!": The iconic theme song has a famous example.
    "They say this cat Shaft is a bad mother—
    But I'm talkin' 'bout Shaft.
  • Bragging Theme Tune: "Who's the black private dick that's a sex machine to all the chicks?/Shaft!/Who's the cat that won't cop out when there's danger all around?/SHAFT!"
  • Brooklyn Rage: The film focuses on a New York private eye who initiates a one-man battle against Da Mob in Harlem.
  • Canon Welding: According to Quentin Tarantino in a 2012 Comic-Con interview, Django and Broomhilda (von Shaft) from his movie Django Unchained are the great-great-great-great grandparents of John Shaft. Make of this what you will.
  • The Chief's Daughter: Shaft woos an African princess in the second sequel.
  • The Chosen Zero: One of the taglines was something along the lines of "The mob wanted Harlem back. They got Shaft".
  • Cold Cash: Shaft keeps a pair of revolvers in his fridge.
  • 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.
  • Creator Cameo: Gordon Parks briefly appears as a landlord.
  • Cult Soundtrack: Isaac Hayes' legendary "Theme From Shaft", which is so memetic that it was inducted into the National Recording Registry!
  • 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.
  • Destination Defenestration: One of the two goons sent to bring Shaft in gets knocked out of his window during a scuffle.
  • Double Entendre: "Who's the black private dick that's a sex machine to all the chicks?" "Shaft!" "Damn right..."
  • Flipping the Bird: At the beginning of the original film, Shaft flips the bird at a cab driver who's honking his horn at him and yelling "Up yours! Get out of the way!"
  • Friend on the Force: Lt. Androzzi, one of the few cops Shaft genuinely likes and respects.
  • Grievous Bottley Harm: Shaft whacks a bottle over a Mafia mook's head at the bar. All it gets the mook is a cut scalp.
  • Guile Hero: Shaft's cunning is one of his greatest assets.
  • Hollywood Healing: Shaft gets shot once in the shoulder at close range by a machine gun and hits the floor, apparently unconscious. After minimal medical attention, it doesn't seem to take long for him to get back in action.
  • I Have Your Wife: The mafia kidnaps Bumpy's daughter to try and make him back down.
  • Ironic Echo: Vic tells Shaft to "Close it yourself, shitty!" referring to the door of his apartment, echoing (non-ironically) the woman Shaft has just slept with. In the final scene, Shaft echoes the line, this time referring to "closing the case."
  • Kick the Dog: Shaft grabs one of Lee's Mooks and uses him as a Human Shield to try and escape. The villain shoots and kills his own henchman. He lets Shaft live only because he has to report back to Bumpy that Lee hasn't killed Bumpy's daughter, that he has taken her hostage.
  • The Mafia: They serve as the main antagonists, trying to take over Harlem.
  • Mafia Princess: Deconstructed with Bumpy's daughter. Turns out, in the cutthroat world of organized crime, being a crime lord's beloved little girl isn't necessarily a good thing...
  • One-Book Author: This was the only film role for Sherri Brewer (Marcy Jonas).
  • One-Word Title: It's simply Shaft.
  • Paying for the Action Scene: Shaft routinely compensates people for the damage his fights cause.
  • Phoney Call: When Shaft is impersonating a waiter at a bar that several mafia goons are drinking at, he calls his Friend on the Force Lt. Androzzi to let him know how many are there and where to send the cops, pretending to be talking to one of his girlfriends.
  • Politically Incorrect Hero: In the novel, Shaft is very antagonistic toward homosexuals.
  • Private Detective: Who's the black private dick, that's a sex machine to all the chicks?
  • Protagonist Title: The title is Shaft, and John Shaft is the protagonist.
  • Race Lift: Ellie Moore was white in the original novel. Conversely, Linda was black in the novel, but white in the film. In the novel, the bartender at The No Name Bar, Rollie, is black in the novel, but in the film is a white friend of Shaft who nonchalantly declares that he is gay.
  • Rare Guns: The shotgun used by John Shaft in the last part of Shaft's Big Score! is the High Standard HS-10B designed circa 1970, originally a law enforcement only firearm.
  • Rated M for Manly: Shaft became one of the most iconic macho characters on film for a reason. As his theme tune says, he's "black private dick that's a sex machine to all the chicks?", "won't cop out when there's danger all about", and course, "he's a bad motherf—" Shut your mouth!
  • Really Gets Around: Shaft. He's a sex machine with all the chicks.
  • 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.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: When Bumpy hires Shaft to find his daughter:
    Shaft: Got any idea who grabbed her?
    Bumpy: A lot of cats hate my guts.
    Shaft: A sweet, loving dude like you? Sweet-talking a man's lady as you beat her man out of his paycheck in the back room of a horse parlor? Feeding his kid shit to shoot in his arm? Who could hate you, Bumpy?
  • Recycled Title: Three out of the five films are just called Shaft.
  • Sequel Goes Foreign: Shaft in Africa, as the title states, has Shaft being taken to Africa.
  • 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: Shaft. He's black, he's funky, he's kickass, he's a bad motherf— Shut your mouth!
  • Tuckerization: During the scene where Bumpy Jonas visits Shaft at his office, a door adjacent to the office says "Skloot Insurance" - named for Steven P. Skloot, a production manager on the film.
  • TV Telephone Etiquette: Shaft does it in style...
    Shaft: Vic, your case just busted wide open.
    Androzzi: So close it for me.
    Shaft: Cut the crap man, this is Shaft. Looks like you gonna have to close it yo'self, shitty! (cackles and hangs up, walks away, theme song music plays)

"Any questions?"

Alternative Title(s): Shaft In Africa