memories of the ’70s – Shaft

He’s on a mission to find a missing girl – and he won’t let the mob stop him – he’s Shaft.

Based on the novel Shaft by Ernest Tidyman, the film was filmed in New York City in 1971, showing off the gritty streets of Harlem.

Starring Richard Roundtree as the title character, the film followed private detective Shaft as he avoids the Italian mob to try and rescue a young woman whose father is in the Black mob.

The screenplay was adapted by Tidyman and John D.F. Black, and showcased the urban life of a big city, especially for the Black population.

As a private detective, Shaft is aware of the police, and keeps his relationship friendly but distant as he becomes a target of the Italian mob during his search for the young Macy.

Produced for $500,000, and filmed in 10 weeks, Shaft became a big hit at the box office and has been labelled the beginning of the Blackploitation films, action thrillers showcasing Black actors as the main characters.

Releasing in July 1971, Shaft made an unprecedented $13 million at the box office, and was one of the best films of the year for struggling MGM Studios. The film was called by Time Magazine a “window-rattling thriller” – and became famous for its dialogue, style and for its theme song, written and sung by Isaac Hayes.

The song won Best Song at the Academy Awards and Roundtree was nominated for a Golden Globe for Most Promising Newcomer (Male).

For the time period, this film was not only a successful action movie, but also showed that a film could be successful relying on the talent of mainly Black American actors, shown in all different kinds of roles.

When I got to see the film, it was another image of what New York City must be like – and made me scared and thrilled to eventually see the city. Shaft definitely will not be forgotten in film history, with its impact on American society and the Black community.

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About Waheeda Harris

A pop culture junkie with a penchant for exploring our planet.
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