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Super Fly

Gordon Parks Jr.

“Briskly paced, stylishly assembled, and complemented by one of the greatest soundtracks of all time (Curtis Mayfield’s songs are probably better known than the actual film), Super Fly is surprisingly grim. With his eye-catching clothes, women, flamboyant car, and steady coke habit, Priest looks and lives the part of the flashy pusher man, but he realizes it’s a trap like everything else.

Ron O’Neal was a struggling stage performer when he developed the treatment of Super Fly with screenwriter Phil Fenty, who promised O’Neal the starring role. Traces of O’Neal’s life can be seen when Priest interrupts a dice game. Pissed, one of the players says he looks white, and Priest immediately punches him. O’Neal’s light skin and naturally straight hair repeatedly made him lose out on black parts—including the lead role in Shaft—because he wasn’t dark enough.

The film was independently financed and had a minority-dominated crew, unusual for films at the time (and, well, today). Gordon Parks Jr., son of Shaft director Gordon Park, took it on after working in the fashion industry and as a camera man and a still photographer for films like The Godfather. His background in photography is obvious during a still-photo montage toward Super Fly’s halfway point: Triptychs and full-frame stills follow Priest’s coke being sold to people from all walks of life, including a construction worker and black executive.

That was a key point when Super Fly took a lot of heat, especially from the black community, for supposedly glorifying Priest’s lifestyle. In an interview, O’Neal called cocaine “basically a white drug” because it was too expensive for black people. “The film opens on Park Avenue where you find the people who use cocaine. You see, the point of the film is that Priest works within the system—not the system they tell us about, the system that really is!” (O’Neal also noted in the interview that “since cocaine is not physically addictive, people do not steal and rob to get it; there are no coke junkies.” Well, you can’t win them all.)

Priest flouts the system at every opportunity, and ends up using the system against itself. Super Fly’s climax finds him taking an unexpected way out—it’s not the clean break he wanted, but getting out never is.” AV CLUB

“Among the early and most sacred films in the Blacksploitation cannon, 1972’s Super Fly is a towering pillar” – Cinapse


  • 6/14 | 8:00PM
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