11 Complicated Facts About Shaft

MGM
MGM

On July 2, 1971, moviegoers caught their first glimpse of John Shaft, the “black private dick that’s a sex machine to all the chicks.” Today, Shaft is considered one of the grandfathers of the blaxploitation genre—and it’s got one of the most recognizable soundtracks of all time. In honor of star Richard Roundtree's 75th birthday, here are a few interesting facts about its creation and release. If you picked up on why Shaft and his associates call everyone “mother,” you’re smarter than at least one unfortunate reporter.

1. A WHITE NEWSPAPER REPORTER CREATED SHAFT.

John Shaft made his debut in Shaft, a novel by Ernest Tidyman. Tidyman was a reporter for The Cleveland News, The New York Post, and The New York Times before he began writing the Shaft series, which included seven detective stories. Along with John D.F. Black, he adapted his first Shaft book into the screenplay for the first film. He would later go on to write the screenplays for The French Connection (1971) and High Plains Drifter (1973) as well as Shaft’s Big Score! (1972) and the Shaft TV series (1973-1974). His work earned him an NAACP Image Award.

2. THE STUDIO WANTED TO SHOOT IN LOS ANGELES.

Shaft was filmed entirely in New York City, which is clearly illustrated by the shots of Times Square and Greenwich Village. But it nearly wasn’t. In his autobiography, Voices in the Mirror, director Gordon Parks recalled how he received word from MGM mere hours before he was set to commence filming that he was to return to Los Angeles and shoot the movie there. Apparently it was a budgetary issue, but Parks wasn’t having it. He flew back to the West Coast and essentially told the studio heads he would quit if he couldn’t shoot in Manhattan. “It has to have the smell of New York,” Parks insisted. The director won out, and his nightmare of a Harlem in Hollywood was never realized.

3. SHAFT’S MUSTACHE WAS NON-NEGOTIABLE.

The Los Angeles fiasco was behind him, but Parks immediately faced another scare when he spied his star, Richard Roundtree, heading to the bathroom with a towel and razor. Producer Joel Freeman had asked him to get rid of his soon-to-be legendary mustache. Parks told Roundtree emphatically, “Shave it off and you’re out of a job.” And with that, the ‘stache stayed in the picture.

4. THE DIRECTOR PUT HIS MAGAZINE IN THE MOVIE.

In the movie’s opening sequence, Shaft stops to talk to a blind newsstand vendor. The magazine Essence is prominently displayed—and that’s no accident; Parks helped found the publication and served as its editorial director for its first three years in print.

5. BUMPY JONAS WAS BASED ON A REAL MOBSTER.

Shaft spends most of the movie tracking down a kidnapped girl. She’s the daughter of Harlem crime kingpin Bumpy Jonas, and Bumpy was not a Hollywood invention. He’s based on Ellsworth “Bumpy” Johnson, who ruled the Harlem crime scene from the 1930s through the 1960s. He had ties to the infamous murder of Dutch Schultz and mentored Frank Lucas, the notorious heroin dealer Denzel Washington played in American Gangster. Fictionalized versions of Johnson have also appeared in movies like The Cotton Club and Hoodlum.

6. GORDON PARKS HAD A CAMEO.

Parks appears briefly in the montage of Shaft searching for Ben Buford. He’s the landlord with the pipe, who complains that he’s also looking for Buford, who owes him six months of rent.

7. MUHAMMAD ALI’S TRAINER HAD A BIT ROLE.

Drew Bundini Brown was a well-known member of Muhammad Ali’s entourage. He worked as an assistant trainer, and was famous for the “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” bit he performed with Ali for the cameras. But when he wasn’t in Ali’s corner, Brown was busy racking up movie credits. His first was Shaft, where he played one of Bumpy Jonas’ men.

8. “SKLOOT INSURANCE” WAS A NOD TO A CREW MEMBER.

Shaft’s office is sandwiched in between Acme Imports Exports Inc. and Skloot Insurance. The latter is a reference to Steven P. Skloot, the movie’s unit production manager.

9. PARKS HAD TO EXPLAIN WHAT “SHAFT” AND “MOTHER” MEANT TO A REPORTER.

When Parks flew to London to do publicity for the film, he ended up giving an impromptu vocabulary lesson. At a press screening, a confused British reporter asked the director what “shaft” really meant. Parks replied by smiling and sticking his middle finger up in the air, explaining that was “the most honest answer” he could give. But the reporter was persistent and followed up by asking why the characters called each other “mother.” Parks really didn’t know how to answer that one, but luckily, a woman in the audience swooped in. “You’ve heard of Smucker’s jam, young man,” she said. “Just snip out the first two letters and add an ‘f’ and you’ll get the message.”

10. ISAAC HAYES WAS THE FIRST BLACK COMPOSER TO WIN AN OSCAR.

Isaac Hayes’ ubiquitous “Theme from Shaft” earned him a 1972 Academy Award for Best Original Song. This win was historic for many reasons. For one, Hayes was the first black composer to score an Oscar. But he was also only the third African American to win an Oscar, period. Prior to 1973, the only other black Academy Award winners were Hattie McDaniel (Best Supporting Actress for Gone with the Wind) and Sidney Poitier (Best Actor for Lilies of the Field).

11. THERE’S A SHAFT COMIC BOOK SERIES.

There hasn’t been a new Shaft movie since the 2000 reboot starring Samuel L. Jackson, but Dynamite Entertainment began printing a Shaft comic book series in 2014. The comics are penned by David F. Walker, who also published the first Shaft novel in over 40 years this February. The latest comic series finds Shaft as a part-time consultant on a blaxploitation movie; Walker intended this meta subplot to be a commentary on “clueless producers who think they have their finger on the pulse of blackness.” And yes, that was an intended slam on the upcoming remake.

11 Illuminating Facts About Netflix’s GLOW

Erica Parise, Netflix
Erica Parise, Netflix

GLOW is a brilliant show, and the way we know it’s brilliant is that it highlights a perfect tension between comedy and drama amid dozens of different personalities all trying to seriously find themselves in an activity no one takes seriously. Also, it had a drug-dispensing, '80s-style talking robot without devolving into pure silliness.

With Alison Brie and Betty Gilpin leading the ensemble, the show about an amateur women’s wrestling squad vying for a large enough paycheck to make all the training and ointment worth it is an absolute gem (as its six Emmy nominations prove). Here are 11 facts about Netflix’s comedic cage match.

1. PRODUCERS DIDN’T WANT ALISON BRIE IN THE CAST.

Alison Brie in 'GLOW'
Erica Parise, Netflix

Like her character, Ruth, Alison Brie got rejected a lot before getting the role, enduring a grueling casting process for producers and a casting director who wanted an unknown for the part. “I cried in my car after every audition,” she said. “I would sit in my care like Ruth and sob. And we were both listening to the same Ultimate ‘80s mix while [we] audition[ed], so Flock of Seagulls was playing.”

2. THE CAST’S TRAINER IS THE NEPHEW OF THE GUY WHO TRAINED THE REAL-LIFE GORGEOUS LADIES OF WRESTLING.

Professional wrestler Armando “Mando” Guerrero took on the task of teaching the motley crew of women who made up the real-life Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling back in 1985. He was reportedly an intense coach, putting at least one woman in a headlock until she cried on the first day of training. All these years later, it’s his nephew, Chavo Guerrero Jr., who has the privilege of training the fictional wrestlers of GLOW, as well as choreographing their fights and acting in two episodes.

3. KIA STEVENS IS A WRESTLER IN REAL LIFE.

Kia Stevens and Betty Gilpin in 'GLOW'
Beth Dubber, Netflix

The cast is full of actresses who all work with trainers to catch up on all the chiropractor-defying moves they have to do, but Kia Stevens (who plays Tammé “The Welfare Queen” Dawson) has been making those moves for decades. Wrestling under the name Awesome Kong and Amazing Kong, she’s a five-time Women’s Champion. Stevens has also wrestled in the WWE as Kharma.

4. BRIE SEES RUTH AS “SEXLESS."

One of the catalysts of the show’s plot is Ruth having an affair with her best friend Debbie’s (Betty Gilpin) husband (Rich Sommer), but the rest of the show is hardly romantic for Ruth, which is probably why Brie views the character as “sexless.”

“I don’t think she thinks of herself as being very sexual,” Brie told The A.V. Club. “It’s a major difference between my character and Betty Gilpin’s character, who has been a successful actress and has a bombshell body, and every time you see her she’s in full hair and makeup ... I don’t think that Ruth is not having sex with guys every once in a while. I’m sure she does. I just don’t think it’s a main part of her life goals.” Even the adultery that kicks off the show is less about sex than it is about someone who feels invisible and rejected being seen and accepted by someone else.

5. WORKING WITH WOMEN BOSSES MADE BETTY GILPIN REFLECT ON HER ENTIRE CAREER.

Rich Sommer and Betty Gilpin in 'GLOW'
Erica Parise, Netflix

GLOW is rare for having so many women in the cast and behind the camera, something that the actors have noted affected the shooting environment as a “protected, feminist bubble.” For Gilpin, it also raised some questions about herself.

“Being on a set with female bosses [co-showrunners Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch], the level of comfort and bravery I felt really made me reflect back on my whole career," Gilpin told The Hollywood Reporter. "I’d always known about things that men did that made me shut down creatively, but I was surprised to reflect on things that I did to myself as a result of being in a male-dominated environment ... I felt a level of fear and anxiety that if I didn’t behave like the quiet Barbie I was playing, they wouldn’t let me play a quiet Barbie again."

6. IT ALSO MADE GILPIN FIGHT HARDER AGAINST THE MALE GAZE.

Since Gilpin doesn’t have a stunt double, and she’s doing the wrestling moves herself, GLOW has forced her to reexamine how she views her body while acting. Specifically, she’s gotten a lot less self-conscious and unshackled her movements from fear of the male gaze.

“The way we think about our bodies is completely changing,” Gilpin told The Huffington Post. Where she used to take workout classes designed to avoid bulking up, now she can lift some heavy weights. “I think that it’s our job to band together and say, ‘Okay, what are ways the male gaze has seeped into your brain and is affecting the way you treat yourself? Let’s work together to eliminate that.’”

7. THE SHOW CHANGED ONE IMPORTANT ELEMENT TO HOME IN ON THE CAMARADERIE.

Jackie Tohn, Jessica Gardner, Kimmy Gatewood, Rebekka Johnson, Alison Brie, Kia Stevens, Kate Nash, Ellen Wong, Shakira Barrera, Brigid Ryan, Becki Dennis, Gayle Rankin in 'GLOW'
Erica Parise, Netflix

They fight in the ring, they fight outside of it, they lift each other up, they undercut each other. It’s all part of the show’s drama and grounded realness. It’s a family, and to develop that sensibility, GLOW borrowed from the conditions the real-life women trained under. That includes staying two-to-a-room at a shabby motel, but the show dropped the forced separation of the good wrestler from the heels (the villains) during travel that the real GLOW athletes experience. They also didn’t make the characters call each other by their wrestling names outside the ring.

8. BROOKE HOGAN MADE A CAMEO.

Hulk Hogan's daughter made a brief appearance as a theater owner who rents her space to the ragtag production. She’s not nearly the only person from the wrestling world to make a cameo appearance, either.

9. WORKING ON GLOW IS LIKE BOARDING SCHOOL.

Marianna Palka, Jackie Tohn, Kimmy Gatewood, Rebekka Johnson, Kia Stevens, Betty Gilpin, Kate Nash, Ellen Wong, Shakira Barrera, Britney Young, Sunita Mani, and Gayle Rankin in 'GLOW'
Erica Parise, Netflix

Too often, shows have one spot in the cast for a woman. GLOW initially had 15. According to Gilpin, “I went to boarding school, and being on GLOW reminds me of that. When your call is 5:45 a.m., and there’s a group of 14 women all talking at once, it can be a little much, but it’s also the greatest gift. It’s constant happiness and support all day, every day. I love it.”

10. THE MATCH BASH RECALLS SEEING IN SEASON 2 IS REAL.

There’s a moment in season 2 where Bash (Chris Lowell) described a personal memory of watching a match between Stan Hansen and Bruno Sammartino where the former busted the latter’s neck. The match is real. So is the injury.

At Madison Square Garden, on April 26, 1976, Sammartino was defending his world title against Hansen when Hansen failed to properly execute a body slam and cracked one of Sammartino’s vertebrae. They were back in the ring two months later in a rematch.

11. THE SERIES WILL BE COMING BACK FOR A THIRD SEASON.

On August 20, 2018—more than two months after GLOW's second season dropped on Netflix—entertainment outlets began reporting that the series had officially been renewed by Netflix for a third season. The decision may not have been an easy one to make, however; as Variety reported: "Industry sources claim that the series is not among Netflix’s most watched, but is valued by the streaming service for its creative execution and status as an awards contender."

GIPHY Is Launching the World's First All-GIF Film Festival

iStock
iStock

Think you’re a GIF master? GIPHY is looking to showcase the best in extremely short films with what it calls the world’s first GIF-only film festival, according to It’s Nice That. The GIF database and search engine company is teaming up with Squarespace to launch a contest dedicated to finding the best GIF-makers in America—the GIPHY Film Fest.

To enter your work for consideration in the festival, you’ll need an 18-second-or-less, looping film that tells a “compelling, creative, entertaining, professional-grade story,” according to the contest details. U.S.-based GIF artists can enter up to three mini-films in each of five categories: Narrative, Stop-Motion, Animated, Experimental, and Wild Card/Other. The films can have music (as long as you have the rights to use it) or be silent. All that matters is that they're between one and 18 seconds long.

The grand prize winner will receive $10,000, a five-year subscription to Squarespace (to host that amazing GIF on your website), and the chance to guest-curate an official Spotify playlist. All entries will be judged by a panel of professionals from across several creative industries, including film, animation, illustration, and design.

The GIPHY Film Fest is not the first uber-short film festival in existence. In 2013 and 2014, back when Vine still existed (RIP), the Tribeca Film Festival held a competition each year to find the best six-second films—a time limit that will make 18 seconds feel practically feature length.

Enter GIPHY’s contest here before the entry window closes on September 27, 2018. The winner will be announced on November 8, during a special New York City screening of each of the top films in each category.

[h/t It’s Nice That]

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