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On Set With ‘Superfly’: Remixing The Story For The 21st Century With Atlanta As The Backdrop

April 19, 2018
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In the early ‘70s Gordon Parks’ Shaft, Melvin Van Peebles’ Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song and Gordon Parks Jr.’s Super Fly forever altered how black folks could be seen on screen. Black actors were no longer relegated to the sidelines as servants or even the polished and collected characters that Sir Sidney Poitier mastered in previous decades. These films ushered the Blaxploitation era and broke the mold, allowing black people to step into the spotlight as the varied and multi-dimensional people that we are.

Now, over forty years later, visionary filmmaker Director X (Rihanna’s “Work”) is picking up his camera to remix (not reboot) Parks Jr.’s visceral tale of the cocaine dealer, Youngblood Priest. Played by Grown-ish’s Trevor Jackson, Priest has grown weary of the drug game and is determined to do one last big job before getting out for good. On a rainy day in February, I stepped inside one of Atlanta’s most renowned nightclubs. The lounge was transformed and redressed as Masquerade Strip Club –a glittering and upscale parlor full of Cirque du Soleil-like dancers. It was as fabulous as you can imagine. I knew immediately that this was miles away from the gritty streets of 1972’s Harlem.

A few short weeks into filming, and the set was buzzing with activity. As I sat perched on the balcony, I could see Director X on the ground floor directing the actors which include Jackson, Jason Mitchell, Big Bank Black and Kaalan Walker, among others. The director seemed completely in his element four months from the film’s release date. In a world that seems increasingly obsessed with reboots and revamps, resurrecting Super Fly has been in the works for quite some time. “I was always a fan of Blaxploitation films,” The Matrix trilogy producer Joel Silver explained as he made his rounds on the set. “It took me a long time to get the rights to Super Fly. Warner’s put the movie out in the early ’70s, but they only had a one-picture license. I (finally) got it in 2001 or 2002. We went to the studio, but they didn’t want to call it Super Fly, and they didn’t want the same story. About two years ago I got a call from Steve Shore, the son of the original film’s producer Sig Shore. He said, ‘Are you still interested in Super Fly?’ He’d just been approached by Starz. I said, ‘No, no, no. I want it. I want it.’”

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