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Speakeasy with Michael Jai White and Scott Sanders

Black Dynamite's creative duo sheds light on blaxploitation films

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According to the trailer, he’s the smoothest mutha who’s ever hit the screen, a man who’s super-cool and knows kung-fu. That’s right, you jive turkeys, we’re talking about Michael Jai White’s latest film project, Black Dynamite. Set in the 1970s, White and co-writer/director Scott Sanders pay tribute to the misunderstood blaxplotiation genre by trying to create the most imperfect spoof. In the film, White’s character Black Dynamite is set on a path to avenge the murder of his brother and stop The Man from distributing drugs in the black community. Dynamite’s take-no-prisoners style of justice sets off a chain of events that uncovers a fiendish plot to decimate the black man.

Sanders and White are longtime friends but haven't worked on a project together in more than 10 years. The two met while filming Thick as Thieves, which Sanders directed and starred White and Alec Baldwin.

Where did the idea for Black Dynamite come from?
White: I came up with the idea after listening to James Brown’s “Super Bad.” Incidentally, it was the first name for the movie but another film came along and got the name before we went to market. But I had this idea and the story came to me and so I started shooting pictures as the character. Scott and I reconnected and he saw the photos I had taken. Off that picture he got the whole premise. I mean, the picture at first glance is very serious, it looks like a badass picture. Then, you look a little deeper and you go, "How ridiculous, he’s got a gun and nunchucks.”

Sanders: That’s entirely the tone of the movie. I mean it's badass, but it’s a little too badass.

Why do a blaxploitation spoof?
White: Well, I love the ’70s — the movies of the ’70s, the music of the ’70s and on top of that, the blaxploitation era meant a great deal to a lot of people at the time.

You know that word — blaxploitation — I don’t like very much. There’s this negative connotation that goes along with it, even though these movies that starred black superstars at the time saved Hollywood — they saved the whole studio system. They found there was a revenue stream and people would frequent these movies over and over again, not only blacks but whites who wanted to live vicariously through strong alpha males like Shaft, Super Fly, The Mack.

They were really good movies and there was nothing exploitive about them. They only became exploitive when Hollywood realized they could make these cheap movies and put very little effort in advertising and everything else — then it became exploitive. So to me it’s unfortunate for the first time we [blacks] were seen as more than pickaninnies, bellmen and maids … and all of that gets grouped under this word “blaxploitation” that has this negative feel to it. I feel that was a renaissance.

Essentially in those films you have these antiheroes who serve the community needs of black people. …
White: You know, the antihero is pervasive in any culture. Look at Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, look at Goodfellas, look at Jesse James. They fight against a suppressive society, so I have mixed emotions about when it becomes black it becomes less than [their white counterparts].

I grew up with heroes like Jim Brown, Fred Williamson, Calvin Lockhart, Billy Dee Williams. All these were alpha males: attractive, smart, leading men who kicked ass and got the women. There’s nothing wrong with that to me. During the heyday of that genre, we poked fun at moviemaking as a whole. Of course there’s this overcompensation of oppressed people making movies that sometimes has a 60 dead whitey body count. When I was researching a lot of this stuff, I would watch and make notes; Slaughter: 45 dead whities; Black Caesar: 65 dead whities. I mean, there are dead bodies and then he’d go have dinner afterwards. This is a fun element. What encompassed all these movies is the pride, the paranoia and the absurdities. We really tried to put all that together with this film.

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