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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 an African-American private detective, John Shaft (Richard Roundtree), 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 a "Best Original Song" Oscar, the first ever awarded to a Black musician.


The film was followed by two more movies - only the first of which was based on a Tidyman novel and directed by Parks - 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.

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

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":

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Flipping the Bird: The original film opens with John Shaft flipping 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: In the original, Shaft gets shot numerous times with a machine gun. He mysteriously lives.
  • I Have Your Wife: The mafia kidnaps Bumpy's daughter to try and make him back down.
  • 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.
  • Line-of-Sight Name: The main character was named after, of all things, a fire shaft.
  • 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...
  • 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?
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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


Example of: