45 Years Later, “Super Fly” Remains Worth Celebrating

The ’70s was a decade of expression and transformation.

It was the era of disco, when Donna Summers and The Bee Gees dominated the charts and radio waves. It was an era of expression, where sex and drugs seemed to be the norm as opposed to things practiced and used behind closed doors. But New York in the ’70s was a simmering cauldron which appeared ready to boil over as the decade progressed. 

With the end of the ’60s came the end of the traditional Civil Rights era and the beginning of the end of the Vietnam war. It was a time when Black soldiers who weren’t killed in the war returned home to be confronted by a new set of challenges. Many suffered from health issues, few opportunities and lots of internal turmoil pent up from the horrors experienced in the jungle. And for those headed to New York, the problems were just starting.

NYC in the 1970’s was not what the city that today’s millennial gentrifiers would recognize. It was rough. It was gritty. It was a city in transition, one that was plagued by big city problems such as urban decay, white flight, gangs, crime and drugs. Gangs such as the Reapers and Black Spades rose to prominence in areas such as the Bronx. Crime organizations such as The Council of Nikki Barnes and mafia families such as the Bonannos and Gambinos ran places like Harlem and many of the powerful unions in the city, respectfully. 

With an influx of Black and Latino residents, white flight to the suburbs, traditional manufacturing moving out of the city, crime stats rising and a police corruption scandal being outed by Frank Serpico in 1971, New York was on the brink of a crisis which was close to erupting in 1975 when the city almost declared bankruptcy.

The start of the decade also placed New York at the center of the Blaxploitation era, as the majority of these movies took place in the city. This period in time became the foundation for the growth of Black Hollywood that would follow over the next three decades. 

While this era was relatively short-lived, its cultural significance and importance cannot be denied. It not only gave us classic Black films, but it also created employment opportunities for actors, writers and directors at a time when the Black unemployment rate, particularly in the city, was climbing.

Image result for blaxploitation era

(Credit: Pragmatic Obots Unite)

After Sidney Poitiers Hollywood success in the ’60s, movies depicting Black life became more serious, eye-opening and, in some ways, culturally damaging. Stories and images of crime, drug dealing, prostitution and inner city slang became the primary perception of Black America for some. 

But these movies also carried messages for America, crafting storylines which integrated images of no-nonsense, proud, unapologetic Black men with the idea of taking it to the man. They demonstrated powerful images of the continued struggle for equal rights and the cry for Black Power that began in the previous decade through groups like the NAACP, The Nation of Islam and the Black Panther Party. They were reflections of the anger and militancy erupting in urban America, told through the lens of Black men in leading roles on the big screen.

The era started with the classic Cotton Comes to Harlem on May 27th, 1970 and was followed by Sweet Sweetbacks Baadassss Song on April 23rd, 1971, the legendary movie from Melvin Van Peeples. Done almost completely by Van Peebles and released as an independent film, its surprising and unprecedented success shocked the major movie studios, forcing them to acknowledge and cater to the increasing power, influence and collective spending power of Black America. 

Related image

One result of this recognition was the release of Shaft on July 2nd, 1971, which was directed by Gordon Parks and distributed by MGM.  

Image result for shaft movie

A year after Shafts big screen debut and success, Black film delivered what is considered one of the greatest films during that era in Super Fly, a film which we celebrate 45 years later.

Super Fly (1972) Official Trailer – Ron O’Neal, Sheila Frazier Movie HD

Subscribe to CLASSIC TRAILERS: http://bit.ly/1u43jDe Subscribe to TRAILERS: http://bit.ly/sxaw6h Subscribe to COMING SOON: http://bit.ly/H2vZUn Like us on FACEBOOK: http://bit.ly/1QyRMsE Follow us on TWITTER: http://bit.ly/1ghOWmt Super Fly (1972) Official Trailer – Ron O’Neal, Sheila Frazier Movie HD Super Fly is a cocaine dealer who begins to realize that his life will soon end with either prison or his death.

Released on August 4th, 1972 and starring Ron O’Neal as the drug dealing protagonist, Youngblood Priest, Gordon Parks Jr.’s first Blaxpoitation masterpiece introduced us to the character who would live on for decades through music and film. 

Capitalizing upon the success of his fathers film and photography career, Parks Jr. was able to secure funding for Super Fly and produce both a highly successful movie and, in some sense, an even more successful soundtrack, all which enabled Parks to film his second classic, “Three the Hard Way”, staring Jim Brown, Fred Williamson, Jim Kelly two years later.

To understand the movie, you must first understand New York during this time period. The bright lights of Times Square were not comprised of the theaters and tourists you see now, but rather the lights of adult theaters, prostitution and a street culture which could swallow the innocent very quickly. This was the playing field for Priest, a cocaine dealer who had built his business up and was now seeking one last score so he could get paid and get out.

But getting out of the life isn’t as easy as it sounds, as Priest has hands full with his enemies, the police, women and everything else that the city could deter him with. A year after John Shaft burst upon the scene, “Super Fly” gave Black America it’s second leading Black male character, another slap you first and ask questions later character who had his way with the ladies and who made men want to be fly like him.

Super Fly, funded by Gordon Parks Sr. and two black dentists, was a low budget film which ended up becoming a box office hit and, more importantly, a street certified success. ONeal, who was a classically trained actor, embodied the part of the tough as nails drug dealer who wouldnt hesitate to pimp out someones wife if he didnt get his money. 

Get My Money, Tonight!

Super Pimp

The film, while short on budget, was not short on talent, as the actors captured the essence of the hard, unforgiving New York streets. Charles McGregor (Fat Freddie), who had been released from jail shortly before the film, provided tips such as how suspects would be frisked and the questions they would be asked. Even the red hat wearing pimp, played by KC, was an actual street hustler whose car was used in the film as Priests ride.

These actors and the usage of New York City streets gave the movie instant authenticity and credibility. There was no way that movies such as Super Fly and Shaft could have become realistic depictions of urban life unless real life was integrated on screen and that included the fashion. 

With basically no wardrobe budget, Parks allowed the cast to basically wear their own everyday clothes, which actually accentuated the authenticity of the movie. By allowing for cultural expression to grace the big screen, Super Fly maintained its street cred and enhanced its connection with film fans.

The movie brought big cars, furs, fedoras, style, women and hardened Black men to the silver screen. It presented a time where life was short and serious for those living in the hood, where people had to create their own opportunities and economies through the culture of the streets. All it needed was something special to capture the soul or the movie and the energy of the streets, and that something was Curtis Mayfield.

Through Mayfields soulful lyrics and sound, the movies essence and meaning were captured and amplified, enabling fans to feel the drama, anger and struggle of both the characters in the movie and of Black America. The soundtrack became synonymous with the film, as you can’t think of “Super Fly” without hearing Mayfield crooning the opening lyrics to “Pusherman.”

I’m your mama, I’m your daddy
I’m that ni**a in the alley
I’m your doctor, when in need
Want some coke, have some weed
You know me, I’m your friend
Your main boy, thick and thin
I’m your pusherman

“Super Fly” was the film title but it also was a description of life, and for those who are making their own success out of basically nothing, then you maintain a bit of Priest in you and you too are super fly. This enabled the film to further strengthen its bond with film goers, especially those who lacked a voice and were hesitant to stand up for themselves. 

Through Priest, especially in the final scene, we learned that although some of the choices we make have bad consequences, no one has to maintain that chosen direction or bow down to those in positions of power or oppression.

Offering To Do My Dirty Laundry Ain’t Going To Help You

Classic scene from “Super Fly” (1972) http://www.blaxploitationpride.org/ https://www.facebook.com/pages/Blaxploitation-Pride/116353578381580 …

Super Fly was not attempting to glorify the drug trade or the life of a hustler. If thats what you think, you need to watch it again. The film should be acknowledged as an honest depiction of an element residing in the streets and the pitfalls involved when falling prey to them. 

But more importantly, its a lesson in imagery, perception and reality. It was an extremely popular movie during a movement which aimed to change the perception and presentation of Black men. One which showcased Black men having the capability to express independence, strength, intelligence and sexuality which was traditionally severely underrepresented and shunned in Hollywood.

So although Ron ONeal passed away in 2004, “Super Fly” and Youngblood Priest continue to live on, and Black Hollywood should appreciate their crucial contribution to its development 45 years later.

Back to top