Following his father’s triumph with Shaft, Gordon Parks Jr. brought a different view of black urban subculture to life in Super Fly with a naturalistic edge, striking fashion statements, Curtis Mayfield’s extraordinary soundtrack, stylized visual flourishes and the semi-glorification of a criminal lifestyle. For the latter it received more criticism than any other blaxploitation film, though it was also the first Hollywood feature completely financed by African Americans with a primarily black and Puerto Rican crew and no studio interference. Just as the drug dealing Youngblood Priest and his partners invert the capitalistic model to fit ghetto constraints, Parks twists the knife that Shaft unsheathed by featuring a black criminal as the triumphant hero. With Mayfield’s anti-drug lyrics an intoxicating counterpoint, Priest’s subversive goal—to make the ultimate deal, so he will be out of both systems and truly free—is its own, complicated indictment of a high-stakes business model cosponsored by the law itself. Print courtesy Warner Bros.
FlavioDirected by Gordon Parks.
US, 1964, 16mm, black & white, 12 min.
Print source: the New York Public Library
Based on a 1961 Life magazine photo series by Gordon Parks, Flavio depicts a day in the life of a twelve-year-old Brazilian boy, one of a family of ten living on a squalid, impoverished hillside across the bay from Rio de Janeiro. Parks shows the delicate tensions that affect Flavio who, though suffering from a serious respiratory illness, keeps hope alive for his family.