'Shaft' Reboot? Shut Your Mouth!

'Shaft' Reboot? Shut Your Mouth!

Feb 19, 2015

Shaft (1971) / Shaft (2000)

Way back in 1971, John Shaft was a trailblazing character, an assertive African-American private investigator played by Richard Roundtree who never backed down from the police and was catnip to the ladies. Shaft won an Academy Award for Isaac Hayes' iconic theme song and was a big hit at the box office, spawning two sequels.

It also inspired a remake in 2000, starring Samuel L. Jackson as the nephew of John Shaft, who faced off against the villainous Christian Bale. Now a new version is under development, with veteran producer John Davis (Predator) and his production company taking charge for New Line studio. No other details have been revealed yet, although The Wrap is reporting that a new actor will be cast in the lead role.

While the original Shaft was very much a product of his time, especially in regard to his cavalier attitude toward woman, the 2000 remake modified his behavior, tamping down his sexual activity and fleshing out his personality, as well as the supporting characters, to produce something closer to a straight dramatic movie that also featured action sequences, rather than a straight action blockbuster.

To attempt to remake the original, with its dated sexism and slang intact, would be foolhardy. On the other hand, making John Shaft into a politically correct character would be equally foolish. As a comparison point, Denzel Washington and director Antoine Fuqua teamed to make a big-screen version of The Equalizer that earned more than $192 million at the worldwide box office. While the original TV version featured a Caucasian actor, the character's race was never an issue in the series, and neither is it an issue in the movie; he's simply a man with a particular set of skills who cannot stand idly by while a grave injustice against a young woman is committed.

John Shaft, on the other hand, is entirely a proactive character, a proud African-American man who is respected in his community for the principled stand he has taken against corruption, and his refusal to ignore racism on the part of authority figures. But, while he respects the law, he doesn't hesitate to commit a few "minor" offenses in pursuit of the greater good as he sees it.

Now the question becomes how to strike a balance and create a new character who will "risk his neck for his brother man" and "won't cop out when there's danger all about," as Isaac Hayes sang in 1971. Who will be that new "black private [eye]"?

Just for fun, here's Isaac Hayes performing the original theme song at the Academy Awards ceremony, complete with Sammy Davis Jr.'s reaction afterward.




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