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August 29, 2010

Movie Review: Black Dynamite (2010)

by Corby Kennard

Who's the Black Super Dick who's a hit with all the chicks? Well, it might have been Shaft at one time, but there's a new contender for the throne - Black Dynamite.

Buy Black Dynamite on DVD or Blu-ray

If you've never seen a blacksploitation film, here's a short primer. In 1971, Melvin Van Peebles wrote, directed, and starred in a film called Sweet Sweetback's Badasssss (yes, five s') Song. It was filled with sex, drugs, pimps, and numerous jabs at "The Man" who'd been "keeping the brother down". When this became a hit in the black communities, tons of new films were churned out to capitalize on this momentum. Shaft, Dolemite and Coffy were some of the biggest hits, but there were tons more that covered every genre, like chop-socky flicks (Black Belt Jones), horror (Blacula), and even westerns (The Black Bounty Hunter originally known as Boss Nigger).

One of the defining features of these films; besides the sex and nudity, the violence, and the overwhelmingly black cast; was the mild misogyny. With very few exceptions - Pam Grier, I'm looking at you - the men were mainly pimps, and the women were all prostitutes, or the sister of someone who was murdered and needed to be protected. Although, to be fair, at one point in most of these films the women kicked someone's ass, and they could talk it up as good as the men.

The other defining feature of these films was "The Man" holding the reins of power and using it to hold back the black community by filtering drugs into it or buying up real estate and forcing them out, or any such plan that fueled the righteous anger of the black characters, and thus the black film-goers who used these films as a catharsis, and to strike back at the bastions of power when they felt powerless.

At first, these films were made by blacks for blacks, tackling black problems in a semi-realistic way, but once they became semi-popular, the white studios took notice and jumped in, diluting much of the message in favor of over-the-top action and stock villainy. The films popularity started dying off in 1976, and by 1979, one of the last popular titles was released - Disco Godfather, starring Rudy Ray Moore. By this time, many of the films had become unintentional parodies of themselves; and this, coupled with the actions of the NAACP and the Urban League to decry these films as stereotypes of their culture, managed to bury the blacksploitation genre.

So it seems the time was ripe for an intentional parody of the genre. Black Dynamite is a fitting and loving tribute to the genre, while still lampooning the more outrageous tropes that made these films (mostly) unintentionally hilarious. It's all here, from the cheesy music, to the cadre of pimps, from the hookers with a heart of gold, to the kung fu nunchuck fights, from the parachuting into the jungle with a team of Black Panthers and a low-level street-pimp …

In the opening scene, Black Dynamite's brother, Jimmy, is killed by a shadowy figure who is running the drug trade on the streets. Everyone knows when Black Dynamite finds out, the streets will run red with blood! (Or, at least, with well-written jabs at 70s exploitation films.) The rest of the film is filled with terrific cameos, like Arsenio Hall as a top pimp, lampooned stereotypes, like Cream Corn, the low-level street pimp, and repeated shots of star/writer/director Michael Jai White's buff chest, all while leading to the most unexpected but thematically perfect ending since Florence stabbed George in a Very Special Episode of The Jeffersons.

If you don't know much about this this underrated genre, you'll still get a kick out of the movie, but if you really enjoy these films, you'll love Black Dynamite. This one is for the fans.

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