Black Dynamite write up for The Free-Times

Online Extra: Black Power and Black Dynamite
By Looking Back, Film Points Toward a Possible Future for Black Cinema


I grew up being a huge fan of hip-hop music that was socially conscious and talked about black empowerment. At a young age, I preferred a Public Enemy record over M.C. Hammer and read more about Marcus Garvey than the Hardy Boys. So, when I kept hearing about movies like Shaft and Foxy Brown, I just knew that they would be the type of movies that would inspire me and make me feel like an honorary Black Panther.

I can remember the first time I saw Shaft. I hated it. Don’t get me wrong, the soundtrack was excellent and I absolutely love director Gordon Parks, but even at a young age I could tell that the acting was terrible, the editing was horrific and the chase scenes were comical. I thought that something was wrong with me. I went through a phase of righteous insecurity feeling that I should love these movies based on quality.

Fast forward a decade-and-a-half later: My 11-year-old self is now closer to 30 than to 20, and here comes Black Dynamite. I am instantly in love with the movie.

It’s difficult to do comedy, and it’s even more difficult to do satire — especially when the audience might not be aware of the joke.

But Black Dynamite has it all: great vintage 70s wardrobe, great soundtrack, kung-fu and boobies. Not to mention the tone, which acknowledges everything hysterical about blaxploitation movies in the ’70s (like scenes where Black Dynamite chases a villain named Chicago Wind as he escapes in his red Porsche 911. But when the car makes an unexpected turn off a cliff, the editing shows an entirely different car falling off the edge bursting into flames).

The movie has an all-star cast including appearances by Arsenio Hall, Brian McKnight, Salli Richardson and a few adult film stars. The movie is funny as hell, action-packed and filled with kung-fu.

It also taught me something about the movies in that era and genre: It wasn’t important for the movies to be any good. The nostalgia comes from finally having a voice in a medium that ignored people of color too long. Shaft was the first time you saw a black lead as a kick-ass superhero talking back to whitey. That might sound comical now, but imagine being a child seeing that for the first time in 1971.

Black Dynamite pays homage to both fallen careers and resurrected ones from the ’70s (like Pam Grier finding new life in a modern day blaxploitation film Jackie Brown and now being on The L Word). The movie is shot on Super 16 Color Reversal Kodak film and accompanied by an astounding soundtrack by Adrian Younge channeling the music that’s as good as Curtis Mayfield’s efforts in Superfly (and throwback posters reminiscent of Dolemite).

The movie is a time machine that makes the beginnings of a revolution look sexy.

Being a supporter and critic of African-American cinema, I am concerned about how my people are portrayed in film as well as the lack of diversity in films. I can say with certainty that Black Dynamite is a refreshing take on what black cinema can be in the new millennium and offer something more than movies where the lead is a 6’4″ man dressed in drag (I’m just saying). Who knew you could be revolutionary by taking a look back?