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The new movie Shaft, starring Jessie T. Usher and Samuel L. Jackson, opened to middling reviews and disappointing ticket sales. Perhaps it’s a case of Shaft overdraft. It is the fifth movie in the franchise and the third to be called simply Shaft. But looking back to the original Shaft, it’s understandable why the studio would want to try again.
In 1971, Richard Roundtree stepped out of a subway entrance to the Oscar-winning sounds of Isaac Hayes and changed American moviemaking. The box-office success of Shaft, about a fiercely independent, courageous, and sexy private eye, led to an explosion of black action B-movies and crystallized a version of black macho cool that hadn’t been shown on the big screen before. And it was all put together by one of the most important American photographers of the mid–20th century, Gordon Parks. The story of Shaft is told by those who made the movie, and those they inspired.
This podcast was produced by Tracie Hunte and Daniel Guillemette.
Special thanks to the Gordon Parks Foundation, Dapper Dan and Jelani Day, David Walker, Alan Rinzler, Telma Hopkins, Sophia Chang, and Tam Ridley.
American Icons is made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.