Super Fly (film)
International release film poster, design by Tom Jung
|Directed by||Gordon Parks, Jr.|
|Produced by||Sig Shore|
|Written by||Phillip Fenty|
|Music by||Curtis Mayfield|
|Edited by||Bob Brady|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|Box office||$6.2 million (rentals)|
Super Fly is a 1972 blaxploitation crime drama film directed by Gordon Parks, Jr., starring Ron O'Neal as Youngblood Priest, an African American cocaine dealer who is trying to quit the underworld drug business.
Leading man O'Neal reprised his role as Youngblood Priest and directed a sequel to the film that was released a year later in 1973, Super Fly T.N.T.. Super Fly producer Sig Shore directed a second sequel in 1990, The Return of Superfly.
Youngblood Priest (Ron O'Neal) is an African-American cocaine dealer who has a strong desire to exit the drug business. Before he can exit the drug world, he has to earn enough funds to support his lifestyle as he feels that a regular nine to five job will not satisfy his needs. He creates a plan to sell thirty kilos of cocaine, and use the profits to sustain him while he searches for a job, which he assumes will be a difficult process due to his criminal background. Along the way Priest has several run-ins with corrupt law enforcement. He also experiences betrayal from his close friend, Eddie. In the end, Priest is able to escape from the drug business with Georgia, his girlfriend, and walk away unharmed. Despite the controversy surrounding the film’s drug use, Ron O’Neal insists that Super Fly “is not really about drugs”; in fact, he asserts that it is the “greatest anti-drug film”.
- Ron O'Neal as Youngblood Priest
- Carl Lee as Eddie
- Sheila Frazier as Georgia (as Shiela Frazier)
- Julius Harris as Scatter
- Charles McGregor as Fat Freddie (as Charles MacGregor)
- Nate Adams as Dealer
- Polly Niles as Cynthia
- Yvonne Delaine as Mrs. Freddie
- Henry Shapiro as Robbery Victim
- James G. Richardson as Junkie (as Jim Richardson)
- Make Bray as Junkie
- Al Kiggins as Police
- Fred Rolaf as Police
- Bob Bonds as Police
- Alex Stevens as Police
- Harry Manson as Police
- Floyd Levine as Police
- Sig Shore (billed as Mike Richards) as Deputy Commissioner Reardon
- Curtis Mayfield as Himself (The Curtis Mayfield Experience)
- Master Henry Gibson as Himself (The Curtis Mayfield Experience)
- Lucky Scott as Himself (The Curtis Mayfield Experience)
- Craig McMullen as Himself (The Curtis Mayfield Experience)
- Tyrone McCullough as Himself (The Curtis Mayfield Experience)
Race: Colorism, Racism, & Stereotypes
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There are elements of colorism in the film Super Fly. The main character, Priest, is the protagonist of the film. He looks different from the other African-American actors in that his skin is much lighter and his hair contains chemicals to make it straight. One of the antagonists of the film is Eddie, the “bad black”, who is the dark-skinned villain. He has an unfavorable view of the world; he thinks that the drug business is profitable. Eddie believes that drugs are the best way for African-Americans to achieve the spoils of the “American Dream”. He supposes that the possession of expensive material items along with an endless supply of drugs is the American Dream. In this scene, Eddie is seated on a black couch while Priest is seated on a lighter brown couch. This scene visually represents the dynamics of colorism in the film.
Priest’s ideas differ from Eddie’s. Priest understands that the drug business is not what life is about. He asserts this idea to Eddie who then laughs and denies it. Priest’s character is marked as the hero in this moment because he doesn’t seem to be concerned with the material wealth associated with drugs. On the other hand, he is not concerned with uplifting and supporting his Harlem neighborhood. His reasons for exiting the drug business are selfishly motivated to aid in his achievement of his idea of the American Dream, which includes financial stability.
The colorism in the film is not limited to the male characters. While there are only two predominant female characters, both of which are love interests of Priest’s, there is a color divide between the two women, black and white. In the film’s introduction, Priest is shown with his white mistress, Cynthia, who is his object of desire. The woman is immediately sexualized. It is no coincidence that Priest is shown with this woman during the establishment of Priest’s character as a powerful man. This was done to show that Priest had the ability to have women of all races, including white. Later in the film the audience is introduced to Priest’s black girlfriend, Georgia. She appears after his character has been established and serves the purpose of the representing the sexual nature of Priest. Interestingly, when Priest is shown with his white mistress, Cynthia, her nudity is modest. In contrast, Priest has a prolonged sex scene with Georgia. This seemingly small detail hints to the idea of colorism and racism. The white woman is coveted and shielded from being overly sexualized while the black woman is not. Not only does the scene portray the colorism of the two women, but it also portrays African-Americans, both male and female, as overtly sexual beings in comparison to whites.
The character, Priest, fits into the stereotypical portrayal of black men in many Blaxploitation films such as Shaft and Sweet Sweetback’s Baadassssss Song. Priest is a Harlem pimp who sells drugs which makes him the film’s buck. He is recognized as a problem to the community through his illegal drug pushing activities. His character glorifies, the “cool” nature of being a pimp and having access to multiple women and wealth. While Priest wants to get away from the drug business, he still wants to maintain his lifestyle as a pimp and as an illegally wealthy man. He wants to trick the system, which is one of the main reasons that his character borders between being a hero and a villain. The African-American community had many issues with characters such as Priest.
Nate Adams coordinated the fashion and wardrobe for the film. He had done several fashion shows prior to Super Fly. He still owns many of the suits, shoes and fedora hats.
Charles McGregor, who plays Fat Freddie, was released from prison before the film's production. The film was shot by director of photography, James Signorelli, who would go on to become the film director at Saturday Night Live.
Of the people who acted in Super Fly, actor Carl Lee enjoyed great fame until he abused drugs: in particular, heroin. He died in 1986 of an overdose. The film's soundtrack by Curtis Mayfield was received well enough that he was sought for other soundtracks. The songs "Freddie's Dead" and the title song both shot up to the Pop Top Ten chart in late 1972, each single selling over a million copies.
Large white companies produced many Blaxploitation films and Super Fly is no exception. Super Fly was appropriated by Warner Brothers and had a white producer, Sigissmund Shore. African-Americans were a part of the process as well. Gordon Parks directed the film and Phillip Fenty wrote the script. The movie generated roughly $4 million in profits. Shore received the bulk of the profits, a whopping 40 percent, while the actors, directors, and scriptwriters split the remaining profits. The soundtrack alone generated about $5 million in profits. Super Fly is one of the first films to do so. The biggest singles from the soundtrack were “Super Fly” and “Freddie’s Dead”. Curtis Mayfield, the artist behind the soundtrack, is the only person in the process that earned revenue close to Shore’s.
Despite the controversy surrounding Super Fly’s drug use, the production of the film made significant advances for African-Americans. The Harlem community backed Super Fly financially, and a number of black businesses helped with the production costs. Another quality that distinguishes Super Fly from other Blaxploitation films is the technical crew. The majority of the technical crew was non-white and the film had the largest non-white technical crew in its time. There was huge financial backing for the independently financed film.
Priest's car is a 1971 customized Cadillac Eldorado. The car belonged to K.C., an actual hustler and pimp from Harlem who plays a pimp in the film. K.C. met Nate Adams in a hotel lobby and was asked if his car could be used in the film. K.C. agreed but later telephoned Nate Adams accusing him of lying, stating, "No niggers are making no movies."
The car was customized by Les Dunham Coachworks of New Jersey, who modified the headlight covers, goddess hood ornament (Rolls Royce/Bentley style), lake pipes and circular porthole windows.
The film helped start a trend for car customization in America known as the Pimpmobile. Many aspiring drug dealers, gangsters, and pimps modified their cars during the 1970s as a result of watching Super Fly.
Reception & Reviews
There were many African-Americans that were displeased with the images of themselves portrayed in movies such as Super Fly, Sweet Sweetback’s Baadassssss Song, and Shaft. African-Americans voiced their opinions on the matter. Junius Griffin, the head of the Hollywood branch of the NAACP stated, “we must insist that our children are not exposed to a steady diet of so-called black movies that glorify black males as pimps, dope pushers, gangsters, and super males.”
During this time period, African-Americans were searching for heroic figures within the film industry, but were faced with limited options. This fact heightened the sensitivity and gravity of the issue of Black representation in film. Ashley Sauers makes the statement that “audiences witnessed a representational revolution where black masculinity, previously associated with impotence, now became synonymous with machismo.”  During the 1970s Blaxploitation boom, the African-American audience was eager for empowered Black characters that were multi-facetted, realistic, and served a purpose beyond being props for the white actors and actresses. Many felt that this need was exploited with characters like Priest that only offer a one-dimensional view of black males and their options for success, while others were just elated to have an independent black character to idolize. There was a divide within the community on the messages of Blaxploitation movies, and Super Fly is one of the prime examples of a film that left the community partitioned.
Super Fly resonated with many of the post-Civil Rights Movement generation of African Americans, who saw Youngblood as a new example of how to rise in the American class system. Several California organized crime veterans, including drug trafficker "Freeway" Rick Ross, have cited the film as an influence in their decision to take up drug dealing and gang violence. The Congress for Racial Equality, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and other organizations attempted to block the film's distribution and pushed for more African-American involvement in Hollywood's creative process. The Student National Coordinating Committee also protested the film as a tool of white oppression.
One critic has suggested that the film's glorification of drug dealers serves to subtly critique the civil rights movement’s failure to provide better economic opportunities for black America and that the portrayal of a black community controlled by drug dealers serves to highlight that the initiatives of the civil rights movement were far from fully accomplished. The filmmakers maintain that it was their desire to show the negative and empty aspects of the drug subculture. This is evident in the movie from the beginning as Priest communicates his desire to leave the business. Nearly every character in the film, with the notable exception of his "main squeeze," tries to dissuade Priest from quitting; their chief argument being that dealing and snorting are the best he ever could achieve in life.
The film was re-released in 1973 and earned $2 million in North American rentals.
A standard definition DVD was released by Warner Brothers on January 14, 2004—the day its star, Ron O'Neal, died after battling cancer. The original red and black Warner logo is replaced by the updated AOL/Warner logo used at the time of DVD release. Additionally, the end credits on the original film release and video cassette, differs from the DVD. On the original release and videocassette the film ends credits roll with a shot of the top of the Empire State building and the title track ("Superfly") plays. After "The End" is displayed, the film fades to black but Mayfield's "Superfly" continues to play for a few minutes until the track ends. In the DVD release, Warner Brothers decided to fade out the track midway right as "The End" is shown, and again brings up the AOL/Warner logo.
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- Lehman, Christopher P. (2014) Power, Politics, and the Decline of the Civil Rights Movement
- Johnson, Scott (2011-01-09). "The return of "Freeway" Ricky Ross, the man behind a crack empire". Contra Costa Times.
- Diawara, Manthia. “Homeboy Cosmopolitan.” In Search of Africa, 252. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998.
- "Big Rental Films of 1973", Variety, 9 January 1974 p 19