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Name: Adam Bernard
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Black Dynamite – Badass Is Universal
Friday, October 16, 2009

Blaxploitation films have given us some of our most outrageous heroes. From Shaft, to Super Fly, to The Mack, the 70’s film genre was loaded with badasses we could all root for. Black Dynamite is set to lead the next generation of those badasses. The film hits theaters today and I caught up with Michael Jai White, who is both the writer and the star of the film, and Scott Sanders, who is the film’s director, to find out what inspired them to create Black Dynamite, how they gauged what the right level of over the top was, and how their recent travels showed them badass is a universal concept. Also, because I’m me, I asked White about some of his original gigs, which included two Toxic Avenger films and arresting AC Slater on Saved By The Bell.

Adam Bernard: Why don’t you start off by telling everyone what inspired you to create Black Dynamite.
Michael Jai White: I had been having these little blaxploitation parties at my house, and I have teenagers who are 14 and 18, they love these movies, and usually they don’t want to admit to liking anything.
Scott Sanders: Mike actually edited together a little tape and there were some very funny moments, like the pimp council in Willie Dynamite, or the scene in a movie with Fred Williamson where his mother dies and they’re at the funeral and all of a sudden this song called “Mama’s Dead” is blaring in the background and you can see this cord coming from his pants leg.
Michael Jai White: They were far from anything that was formula and they reflected a time where it was like the first time black folks could see themselves in heroic roles, even though sometimes they created a hero out of a pimp, very much like they did with Butch Cassidy and Jesse James, these characters were outlandish and they had a certain swagger, so even people who didn’t grow up in that era found it very entertaining. The approach was so non-politically correct. I think now we’re in a time of formula and I felt like wow, it would be interesting to serve up some breast milk.

Adam Bernard: Yeah, and something that doesn’t have a number two or three at the end of its title.
Michael Jai White: Absolutely. I think people want to go on a ride. When you look at some of the ethos of the blaxploitation movies, a lot of them had this thing where the white man is this omnipresent, moustache twisting, villain that was trying to destroy the black man. It was this hyper violent overcompensation of being oppressed that created its own camp. To look at it at this distance it’s quite funny to take it seriously, so we decided to really do it like they did it back then and treat the material seriously.

Adam Bernard: In terms of the material and the character, what do you think makes Black Dynamite who he is?
Michael Jai White: He’s Shaft, Superfly and The Mack put together. He’s like the oppressed man’s wet dream to live vicariously through.
Scott Sanders: It’s like “what’s the most badass thing you can do?” He doesn’t even have a real job. He’s sort of in the CIA and he’s sort of a pimp and he’s sort of fighting drugs in the community. Whatever badass thing you need necessary for the character, he’s it.

Adam Bernard: He sounds pretty tough. Michael, who do you think would win in a fight between Black Dynamite and one of your previous roles, Spawn?
Michael Jai White: Oh boy. {laughs} I’m sorry, Spawn has a little bit of an edge with these chains and he’s got this magical cape, he’s coming from a different world.
Scott Sanders: Spawn’s dead, so isn’t he kind of hard to kill? But I still think the way we crafted Black Dynamite, he doesn’t die. When they shoot his parachute he just lands on his feet without even bending his legs.

Adam Bernard: That’s pretty crazy, and that being said, when making a film of this nature how do you know when you have the right level of “over the top?”
Scott Sanders: It was sorta like the whole Spinal Tap thing, just turn the knob to eleven. Nothing is really that far off from various scenes in blaxploitation movies. Like how the militants are always plotting to overthrow the government from the smallest living room, or dining room, and it’s only three or four guys. In Willie Dynamite there was an actual pimp council. That idea to me is funny, that pimps have to have meetings to discuss the state of pimpdom in their town.
Michael Jai White: It’s like the real leads in the movie are the fictitious writer and director that are from the 70’s, that’s the perspective the movie is from and if something ridiculous happens it has to be something that would make the final cut in one of those movies and it has to be so subtle that it could possibly slip by. For example, there’s a line of dialogue in the movie that happens where this militant is speaking the direction in his dialogue. He turns around startled when Black Dynamite comes in the room and he says “the militant turns, startled. Where did you come from?” Black Dynamite is looking at him like “you just read the screen direction.”

Adam Bernard: That’s very intellectual humor.
Michael Jai White: That’s what our intentions are. I grew up on Monty Python, Steve Martin, and probably my favorite of all time is Peter Sellers. I love their humor, I love their commitment in their humor, and things are always on so many levels. There’s the visceral, there’s the silly, and then there’s a completely intellectual silly, as well. There are layers.

Adam Bernard: That was the greatness of Rocky and Bullwinkle, the kids were watching it for one thing and the parents were watching it for something completely different.
Michael Jai White: That’s exactly what we’re going for here. You don’t have to know anything about blaxploitation movies. Our responses overseas have been crazy. Our first standing ovation was in the Czech Republic. Germany keeps wanting us to come back. We just came back from France. You would think they wouldn’t get it, but what they’re seeing and what they’re responding to is basically the badassetry from this character who just doesn’t give a damn.
Scott Sanders: I think there’s something about the badass nature of Black Dynamite that really attracted them. I guess that’s the thing that’s kind of missing from movies. I don’t think there are very many manly men in America in the movies.

Adam Bernard: I think the closest we have is Jason Bourne.
Scott Sanders: Maybe Matt Damon is pretty much it. He’s strong and smart, but he’s got a boyish quality to him.

Adam Bernard: Very true. Finally, I have one last question for Michael. Very early in your career you had bit parts in a handful of project I think a lot of people remember fondly – The Toxic Avenger II and III, TMNT II and Saved By The Bell. Would you mind talking about that time in your career?
Michael Jai White: I’m proud of all of those. People think I might shy away from Toxic Avenger, but I am so proud of Toxic Avenger and whenever I’m in town I always try to find out where Lloyd Kaufman is. I had a wonderful time doing that and I even respect that kind of genre, that style. He kind of created his own style, one where you can’t be too far over the top. I thought that was wildly entertaining and I’m very proud of that. Saved By The Bell was, I think, the first TV show I ever worked on. I’m the one that picks up Mario Lopez and arrests him. I talk to him about that every now and then.

Related Links

Website: blackdynamitemovie.com


posted by Adam Bernard @ 7:15 AM  
  • At 9:07 AM, Blogger dyalekt said…

    Very well articulated. Sounds like Black Dynamite is gonna be the best blaxploitation parody since I'm Gonna Git You Sucka.

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