Shaft himself was definitely a cool minority character. Not only was he unique because of his work in a typically “white” job, but he also had all of the quintessential elements of cool. Shaft was disconnected from the world, incredibly tough, in style with his clothes and women, and of course he was 150% devoted to his cause. The role of minority characters is not always cool of course, as we see in many movies where the minorities are the ones sought after for their crimes or work with gangs. In Shaft it was the other way around though, and we saw the old school white mobsters being hunted by the suave African American private detective. Minorities don’t seem to be considered for the main, cool roles very often, perhaps because the writers and directors want the majority to be able to identify. I think this will change in the future, and perhaps has already begun with the election of Barack Obama, but for now Shaft still seems to be a minority in the entertainment industry.
A similar person who comes to my mind is Jet Li. Li started his martial arts career as a child and devoted his entire life to his work and training. Now, of course, he is also a well-known actor and performs his incredible martial arts skills for everyone to see on film. While kung fu movies might not be “cool” in many people’s opinions, Jet Li and his characters should certainly be considered that way. Li’s skills are mind-boggling, especially for people like me who have no such talent to claim. The best example that comes to my mind is one of his most recent films from last year, The Forbidden Kingdom, in which he played the legendary Monkey King or Silent Monk. So not only is Li a definite minority in America, he is also a martial arts icon across the globe. His undying devotion to his career makes him a definite member of the transcendent cool class.
On a completely different note, I must mention how one of my favorite writers, Stephen King, provides a good example of a cool minority in his epic Dark Tower series. The main character is gunslinger named Roland Deschain; he is the last of his kind, and thus is a definite minority. Roland belongs nowhere in the world and is feared by most that he encounters. Similarly, his quest to find the “man in black” and the “Dark Tower” that holds the crumbling universe together alienates him from the rest of humanity. Roland is a prime example of transcendent cool because his entire life revolves around and is his quest. Nothing else and no one else matters in his world. Not to mention the fact that he also has many of the typical cool qualities we look for in a character— detachment, amazing skills, moral ambiguity, etc. While Roland’s ethnicity makes him a part of the majority for our society, his profession and heritage make him the last of a long line of gunslingers from the land of Gilead.