Monday, March 05, 2012

Empowered by Super Fly Forty Years later

I was going on ten years of age when the movie SuperFly was released. It was the talk of nearly everyone I came in contact with. My first experience came with the album cover and soundtrack, the pictures and the music and although I would not be able to see it for another six years, when my family secured our first VCR, namely because back then parents would not take children to such foul language movies as many in our community do today, it has left a lasting impression on me.

Superfly was released in 1972. The movie is about Youngblood Priest a stylish and successful cocaine dealer who smart enough to know that there's no real future in dealing coke, and decides with his partner to purchase 30 kilograms of Coke to sell in four months and get out of the drug game for good with a million in cash (big paper in those days. Priest was played by Ron O'Neal

Ron O’Neal, who we lost to a battle with cancer in 2004, and which I wrote about on these very pages then, out did himself. His role, along with the movie showed me that my world and what I saw in Memphis occurred in another place – New York. Everything from the Eldorado’s and Cadillac’s to the way they dressed was what a ten year-old would see while walking down the Linkstreets of Memphis.

O’Neal’s first big break came in a Broadway production of Lonne Elder III's “Ceremonies In Dark Old Men”. In 1970, he appeared in Charles Gordone's Pulitzer Prize-winning play, “No Place to Be Somebody”. His performance earned him an Obie Award, Drama Desk Award, Clarence Derwent Award and the National Theater Award.

The cinematography was ground breaking at the time, with the chase scenes on the street of new York, on the Bronx River Parkway and the camera angles. But such was to be expected seeing it was directed by the legendary and historic Gordon Parks, Jr. The writing also was exceptional, being written by Phillip Fenty, the father of Adrian Fenty, former Mayor of D.C.

The movie was a box-office smash and even with that, one of the few movies in which its soundtrack made more money. The soundtrack was produced and written by another American legend – guitarist, singer and songwriter Curtist Mayfield. It was his third album and considered by many in concert with Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” as one of the most socially conscious collection of messages in the form of song for positive, pro-active Black consciousness. “No Thing on Me”, “Pusherman,” “Superfly” and “Little Child Runnin' Wild” were all popular along with most of the singles released from the album. My personal favorite was “Think.”

I could never figure out why years later such a film would be described as “black exploitation,” seeing it provide opportunities for artist the likes it would be hard to find comparison too currently. Strange is it that the folks who say such consider “Boys in the Hood” and “Menace to Society” as being great and something to be proud of. I would disagree and place “Superfly” above both. It was not exploitive but rater empowering.


msladydeborah said...

I love how you mentioned the old school ways of exposure in this post. Our parents wouldn't of dreamed allowing us to see a grown folks flick.

Has it really be that long? In 1972 I was turning 19 years old. Ron's films always had an outcome regarding interactions with the police that made folks uneasy.

Time flies but the game still remains the same.

nicki nicki tembo said...

IMHO the most significant fact regarding this motion picture is that it was the first and only movie which depicted the black man as triumphant over the system. All movies prior and since have cleverly shown our black men as losers or otherwise having to pay some exorbitant price (such as life,limb, or loss of freedom) in the end. We never see him walk away wholey better off, erect and intact.