Often credited as being the first Blaxploitation movie, though that title officially belongs to Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song. Though this might not officially be the first blaxploitation movie it’s far better than Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song and forms the true basis of many blaxploitation movies hat came after this. Where Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song was an angry political pamphlet against suppression of the black community, Shaft is just a plain middle fingerto the white man.
The daughter of a black gangster has been kidnapped. He doesn’t want to involve the police, but comes knocking on the door of private eye John Shaft or as he called in the opening theme by the late Isaac Hayes: a black private dick that’s a sex machine to all the chicks. He’s of interest to the local police, who’re mostly white, because he has access to the black community something which they haven’t. This puts him in a position where he has some friends on the force, though he never bows for “the man”.
Shaft basically puts a black guy in a role normally reserved for white people. A leading character who avoids stereotypes, uses his smarts as well as his muscles and gets the girl, even if she’s white. Nowadays the sight of a white woman with a black guy is generally accepted, but in the times of Shaft not so much, and that’s understating it. Like Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song Shaft does have some political message behind, it’s just better into camouflaging it in a fun movie.
Richard Roundtree is Shaft and gives a good performance. His character is larger than life and so are the situations he’s put in. One scene in particular is noteworthy as he discovers some guys in a bar are staking out his house. He has someone go there to turn the lights on, but in the meanwhile takes over bartender duties and serves them drinks on the house.
The grand finale consiste of Shaft flying through a window before gunning an entire condo full of white mafiosi down with the help of some friends.
Shaft was the first true blaxploitation movie to be released and a fun one at that. It plays with stereotypes and prejudice and does a fine job. In terms of action and pacing it differs from today’s action movies but despite that Shaft is surprisingly watchable.