SHIFTING ‘SHAFT’ TO THE YEAR 2000
Shaft returns this weekend in the John Singleton directed sequel, not remake, of the original blaxploitation action classic. Samuel L. Jackson plays the title character in Shaft, the nephew of the original character played by Richard Roundtree. At a press conference promoting the film’s release, the cast and directors shared their thoughts on the legacy their film will have to live up to.
Singleton credits his cast for making the remake work. “Everybody’s performance stands out,” Singleton said. “I mean, Jeffrey Wright [as Peoples Hernandez] almost steals the whole film. Every scene Busta [Rhymes] is in is great. And Sam, man, Sam is just the man.”
Jackson was originally concerned with the idea of updating a classic, but explained how he came to feel comfortable with the project.
“First, let’s understand something about John Shaft,”Jackson said. “You listen to the song, the first thing you hear is he’s a black private d*ck who’s a sex machine for all the chicks. Number one, there’s no sex in this script. Two, he can’t be a cop! Audience is not gonna accept John Shaft as a cop. So, even if he starts off as a cop he has to get off the police force. Also, a lot of people thought we were doing a remake, and if people have that thought then that means they think I’ll be imitating Richard Roundtree. The best way to get rid of that thought is put him in the movie as John Shaft so I have the freedom to create what I need to create. Once we got those things straight, we were able to move along and I was able to wrap my mind around the idea I could pull this off.”
Reprising his role as the original Shaft, Roundtree expressed his perspective on changes inHollywoodin the last three decades.
“It’s a totally different game at this point,” Roundtree said. “Back in ’71, Shaft was unique in that no one had ever seen an African American totally in charge like that. Today you have at least 7 or 8 black actors doing action roles so it’s not new. The impact is not going to be the same and what that impact will be remains to be seen.”
Roundtree even conceded an improvement Jackson made on his original portrayal of Shaft.
“I remember distinctly doing Shaft and the word MF was in it and after the film was done, I had the opportunity to meet Miles Davis and Miles said to me, ‘It was a good film but you’ve got to learn how to say MF.’ I couldn’t really say that. It still doesn’t come out of my mouth. That’s one of the major differences. But Sam says it with conviction.”
Similarly, Christian Bale, who plays villain Walter Wade, felt the significance ofJackson’s grasp of vocabulary.
“It’s a great pleasure to be called motherf**ker by Sam Jackson because he says it like not many other people,” Bale said. “The real challenge I found in this part is that Sam is quite an imposing kind of guy. He’s a big guy and especially in his Shaft get-up I had to look like a worthy adversary, not like somebody he would steamroll. So, I just went full tilt in being a complete prick and it seemed to pay off.”