So I watched Black Dynamite…
This is a film that a few close friends have been recommending to me for quite some time. Now having watched – and enjoyed it – I really wish that I had found space in my schedule for it sooner.
Okay, basic plot: After his younger brother is murdered in a drug deal gone wrong, Black Dynamite (Michael Jai White) vows to find the organisation that killed his brother and rid the streets of the drugs they’re peddling. Black Dynamite uses his considerable martial arts and guerilla warfare skills obtained through his years in the Vietnam War and working for the CIA to declare a war on drugs. As Dynamite uncovers the truth around his brother’s death, he discovers a plot to – literally – cut the black community down to size; a plot that goes all the way to top.
Black Dynamite is a parody of the Blaxploitation film genre. Exploitation films are generally B movies which set out to exploit current trends and popular genres. Examples of Blaxploitation films are the likes of Cleopartra Jones, Shaft, Foxy Brown, Super Fly to name but a few. I only mention this brief explanation because I didn’t really know any of this before watching this film. And I think a parody can only truly be enjoyed when you have some knowledge of the genre it parodies.
Black Dynamite is the brainchild of Michael Jai White who not only stars as the titular character but also helped pen the film’s script. He actually filmed this movie’s trailer and gathered funding for the film before he even began writing the script. I think this film’s backstory just further adds to its authenticity as a Blaxploitation film. As I always say, a good parody doesn’t just mock a genre, it becomes an installment to the genre itself. So the low-budget characteristic and unorthodox timeline of events in production just further add to your enjoyment of the film.
Being a parody, this film highlights and mocks the cliches and tropes of Blaxploitation films. From the often low-budget quality to the irregular acting and cliche storylines. A great example of this comes early in the film when a sound mic can be seen at the top of the screen and a character actually reacts to the presence of the mic. Another great example of this would be the film’s main protagonist being “The Man” – if you’ve ever watched any classic examples of black cinema or television, you’ll know exactly what that means.
But Black Dynamite doesn’t just limit itself to mocking the classic tropes of the genre but seeks to create comedy in innovative ways itself. This film’s script which was written by White, Byron Minns and director, Scott Sanders, is extremely funny. The fact that this film was written in the late 2000s allows it push the boundaries of its comedy a lot more. It still feels genuine and appropriate for time period the film is set in but it’s more daring and racey than 1970s writing would have allowed. The film also has a general sense of simultaneously knowing that it’s a movie but also being a self-contained, genuine story.
My favourite thing about this movie was about how inconsistent and irregular it is at times. I loved its score. Anytime someone says something groundbreaking (often even when they say something mundane), there’s a roar of dramatic orchestric music to punctuate the moment. It really adds to the film’s humour. There’s also an irregularity to the acting which I enjoyed. Blaxploitation films were often low-budget and, as a result, scenes would often have to be shot in one take. So if a mistake was made during that one take, it was in the film. This is often evident because actors will have one reaction but then suddenly escalate the reaction as if they just remembered that the script called for something different. There’s a scene where Black Dynamite finds out that ‘smack’ is being sold in an orphanage. His outrage to this comes in stages, as if he wasn’t quite sure how angry he should be about it.
The actors in this movie really do a good job. They have an amazing awareness of the tone of the film and what’s needed from their performances to support this. There are also errors that have to be deliberately made to add to the comedy and these are masterfully pulled off. Michael Jai White is the standout but Salli Richardson, Tommy Davidson and Byron Minns are also sensational.
Overall, Black Dynamite is a wonderful parody! It’s funny, intelligent and does great work setting itself apart and becoming a member of the genre it so skillfully mocks. It’s definitely worth watching especially if you were a fan of classic Blaxploitation films. 8/10