Promoting I’m Gonna Git You Sucka in 1988, Steve James, who appeared as “Kung Fu Joe” in the blaxploitation spoof, commented: “I always hated that label ‘blaxploitation.’ I wondered, why couldn’t there just be films with black stars? You know, you’d go around the corner from a theater showing one of them, and there’d be Dirty Harry. And nobody was calling it ‘whitesploitation.’” Right on, Steve! So in February, I’ll take a look at ten films featuring black stars from a certain era.
Directed by Ivan Dixon
Screenplay by Sam Greenlee and Mel Clay, based on the novel by Sam Greenlee
Produced by Ivan Dixon, Sam Greenlee
Any trip through “blaxploitation” would be missing something without The Spook Who Sat By The Door. Written in 1966 and published in 1969, Sam Greenlee‘s political thriller notched 1.5 million copies sold. The author went into business withIvan Dixon, an actor and television director who’d gunned his way into features withTrouble Man in 1972. Greenlee & Dixon’s plan to finance and distribute the film independently stalled when black investors proved scarce; Greenlee’s attorney put up roughly $800,000 to get cameras rolling and United Artists acquired distribution rights, contributing $200,000 in completion bonds. Yanked from release by exhibitors fearful that the movie would spark revolution in theater lobbies across America, The Spook Who Sat By The Door went underground for almost 30 years.
Running a tight reelection campaign, a U.S. senator opts to raise his profile among urban voters by appointing a token black agent to the Central Intelligence Agency. One promising finalist appears to be Dan Freeman (Lawrence Cook), ostracized by his classmates for studying too much and initially overlooked by management due to his habit of fading into the woodwork. But Freeman’s physical, intellectual and personal assets match what the CIA is looking for and he wins the spot. Freeman spends five dutiful years in a sub-basement toiling as a document “reproduction section chief”, growing estranged from his childhood love, a social worker (Janet League) who wants to get married and start a family. Instead, Freeman resigns his position as the first black spy to return home to Chicago, ostensibly to become a social worker.
Freeman makes contact with the leadership of a street gang he ran with as a teenager. Unimpressed with the gang’s puny resistance against the pigs, Freeman drills the hoodlums in guerilla warfare tactics, from building explosives, to organization, to how to rip off the enemy (“Remember, a black man with a mop, tray or broom in his hand can go damn near anywhere in this country, and a smiling black man is invisible.”) Freeman connects with an ex-hoodlum turned cop (J.A. Preston) he hopes to flip to their cause, as well as a D.C. prostitute Freeman dubs “Dahomey Queen” (Paula Kelly) who becomes a crucial source of information. The Black Freedom Fighters of North America find their plans for armed resistance rushed into the field when s