Michael Jai White & Black Dynamite

He’s tough, he’s sexy and he’s angry. Oh, yeah. He’s also black.


He’s Black Dynamite, the jive-talking, feet-a-flying, Afro-wearing, no-nonsense hero who also happens to be a sex machine. Just like Shaft. John Shaft. After his bro’ is murdered, he gets back into action that’ll put bad guys in traction. The powerful white guy known as “The Man” is behind his brother’s death. And there ain’t no stopping Black Dynamite now.

As played by Michael Jai White—the martial arts champ-turned-actor of Spawn, The Dark Knight and Tyler Perry movies fame—Black Dynamite is a mighty mix of Jim Brown’s Black Gunn, Fred Williamson’s Jesse Crowder, Rudy Ray Moore’s Dolemite and Bruce Lee. And White, with his pec-popping, open-shirted machismo and kinetic kung foolery, gets him just right.

In fact, Black Dynamite gets just about everything right when it comes to sending up the 1970s  blaxploitation genre, from the cruddy camerawork to the ugly loud costumes, from the bad acting to the pimps, mean mammas and corrupt politicos who populate the plot.

“We wanted this to look like a 1970s exploitation film,” says White, who also co-wrote the film, on a recent stop in Philadelphia. “When I talk to people, I tell them that if they were watching this film it would be like they swore they were watching a film of that era. Sometimes, it gets compared to Undercover Brother, Grindhouse and I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, but none of these occurred in the 1970s. So Black Dynamite is some kind of other thing.”

Black Dynamite was made on the cheap in Los Angeles on a tight 20-day shooting schedule. The film was picked up by Sony after an enthusiastic screening at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, despite the recent disappointment of Grindhouse, another homage to ‘70s exploitation. “I didn’t know anything about Grindhouse,” says co-writer/director Scott Sanders, who previously worked with White on the thriller Thick As Thieves ten years ago. “I liked Grindhouse, especially the trailers like Machete. We did have the benefit of seeing how people responded to it, but we wanted a pristine copy of a ‘70s exploitation movie, which was a reverse of how Grindhouse was done. They shot it digitally, then dirtied it up through digital means. Ours was dirty to begin with.”

White, who also played Mike Tyson in the 1995 cable movie Tyson, was weaned on blaxploitation movies, and thinks they’ve never been taken as serious as they should be.

“I was a fan of them,” he states matter-of-factly. “Unfortunately, a lot of great films got stuck with the moniker of blaxploitation like it was some negative thing. A lot of these were really urban movies, but the lousy ones got the NAACP to call them black exploitation.”

“They were a tremendous source of pride for people who always saw themselves as being represented as a porter a chef or a waiter. The Jim Browns and Fred Williamsons are dashing leading men who got the girl and defeated evil. Shaft was a hero to black kids and white kids as well.

“We wanted to represent the whole genre—the good and the bad. It’s a funny source of material when you have movies so low that you can only have one take, and if that boom mike got into that shot, it goes into that movie. We tried to have fun with those elements as well. Then there’s that sense of pride.”

Sanders had a different experience with the black exploitation films. “I came to them a little later,” says the filmmaker. “I saw a triple feature and saw a trailer for Sheba, Baby with Pam Grier, and she has a gun pointed at a pimp and she’s just talking pimp talk. I didn’t see the movies in a way that I’m seeing them as guys I’m looking up to, but I was drawn to them. And then after that there was the Dolemite route, which I thought were entertaining and fun.

“Michael cast his friends,” jokes Sanders. “He asked them, ‘You want to be a pimp for a day?’

Advance word is high on the film following its Sundance triumph. There’s talk of a sequel already and the company behind the animated Cartoon Network show The Boondocks is talking about an animated version of Black Dynamite, too.

But Spencer and White think their biggest kick so far was when the film screened at Sundance around the time of Barack Obama’s inauguration.

“When we were making the movie there was no Obama in sight,” says Sanders, who shot the film at the end of 2007. “I think Hillary Clinton was just thinking of running for president.

“For us, (Obama winning) was great,” continues Sanders. “We were thinking selfishly—we got to make the movie funnier and make it look anachronistic, so you’re really looking back at this thing.

“At Sundance, on the day of the inauguration, there’s a scene in the movie where the corrupt politician goes, ‘We’re gonna go from the poorhouse to the White House.’ And everybody at Sundance cheers. That’s clearly not the intention of that scene. He’s just this corrupt politician and this is a thing in blaxploitation movies where there’s an evil black politician and where the hero had to get revenge on him. It made the movie more interesting, but we really had so much lead time.”