By Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J., Chicago Crusader
In my opinion, this remake of “Superfly” wasn’t really necessary, but if you want to see flashy jewelry, fancy cars, scantily-clad strippers and check out the meticulously groomed hair of its main character, Youngblood Priest, played by Trevor Jackson, who also plays in Freeform’s “Grownish” series, then it’s a good time at the movies.
This “Superfly” is set in Atlanta, amid a sea of rap music, strip clubs and, of course, heroin. The original film, which premiered in 1972, was set to a great score by the late Curtis Mayfield and directed by the late Gordon Parks. It featured the late Ron O’Neal and was set in Harlem. It was one of many films that dominated the Blaxploitation era. However, if this remake makes producers and actors a bit of money, I guess that’s the driving force.
Unlike O’Neal’s Priest, Jackson doesn’t use drugs and could be considered a likeable “Robin Hood-like” drug dealer. He desperately wants to get out of the drug game. Don’t they all? He devises one more huge score and distribution plan before he takes off into the sunset with his two women. However, his right-hand man, Eddie, played by Jason Mitchell, isn’t quite on board. The enemies in this “Superfly” aren’t just the cops but a group of fancy dressers called the Snow Patrol who always wear white, drive fancy white cars and participate in gunplay brandishing fancy white artillery.
The film moves from Atlanta to Juarez, Mexico, as Priest goes behind his mentor’s back and cuts straight to the drug cartel that has been supplying the dope. Michael K. Williams plays Scatter, who basically plucked Priest up as a teenager into his drug-dealing crew. Scatter launders his drug money through his martial arts school, as does one of Priest’s girlfriends Georgia, played by Lex Scott Davis, who runs an art gallery. Priest is also a businessman of sorts who fronts his riches within a low-end furniture store.
There is not a lot going on in this movie, but many situations might not appeal to an older generation. There are slick cars, loud music, nice costumes, a steamy bathtub scene that would have made even O’Neal blush and a mansion or two. And, for Priest or others of his ilk—high flossing drug dealers—the message could be that if you survive many obstacles, car chases, and don’t forget the cops, you may eventually leave the drug game only slightly scathed, and with your hairdo still intact.
This resurgence of and fascination with this old genre may not be to everyone’s delight. However, according to Aurora University professor Gerald Butters, Ph.D., this era saved the downtown Chicago theater district from collapse. In his book, “From Sweetback to Super Fly, Race and Film Audiences in Chicago’s Loop,” Dr. Butters argues that the Loop became a prime destination for thousands of young Black Chicagoans in the early 1970’s and this was a continuation of the civil rights movement. The explosion of Blaxploitation and Black-themed motion pictures in the Loop and the growing awareness of Loop theater management that an underserved Black population was hungry for motion pictures that catered to them led many Loop theaters to gain a reputation, and in a seemingly short amount of time, these theaters became “Black spaces.” While these spaces were great gathering spots for young people, this terrified the white business establishment and the Daley administration, and by 1973 plans were already in the works to bulldoze all of these theaters. Shortly thereafter, most of the theaters had closed for business.
While watching “Superfly,” I did wax nostalgic about the good old days. As well, I did get to hear Curtis Mayfield’s “Pusherman” again on the big screen. So with my fawning over Priest’s hair, his kick-ass clothes, along with his martial arts skills and sleek/slick Lexus, it was a decent movie experience. “Superfly” also stars Big Boi, Esai Morales and Big Bank Black, among others. It is playing in theaters everywhere.