Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Coolness of Suffering

I’m still not sure how I felt about the movie we watched this week, Shaft. I’ve never been a fan of action/cop movies, and this was definitely was definitely one of those movies. There were a lot of good qualities to the movie though, so I haven’t completely marked it off my list of good movies.

One thing I really liked about the movie was its depiction of the 70s. The “jive” lingo the main characters used was perfect. It helped viewers feel in the moment with the characters, as did the on-scene shots that were present all throughout the movie. Other than those shooting techniques, the aspects of the movie that I really liked were the controversies that Shaft faced in his daily life— I thought his personal struggle was intriguing and very cool indeed.

On a daily basis Shaft faces the tensions of race, work, and his private life in the Harlem black culture. Shaft has a job that is very typical for white, rather than black, men. As a private detective he works closely with numerous white men every day, and this often makes his personal life in Harlem rather difficult. His own people tend to view him as a traitor for the work he does, but really he isn’t at all because most of the work he does is for the betterment of his neighborhood and people. Shaft had the hard-core, tough-guy image working for him, but at the heart he was really well-intentioned and caring. Most of the other aspects of his life were filled with tension and conflict as well though. Shaft’s work inherently brings him into conflict with the white mafia as well as the local gangs and the police that he has to work with every day. Shaft’s entire life was in constant turmoil it seemed, but he still find time to do simple things to support his community, such as giving money to a poor little boy or taking time out to chat with blind newspaper salesmen. While his world was full of action, crime, drugs, and cultural warfare, Shaft maintained his independence from it all and kept his values in tact. In my opinion he was one of the most grounded characters I ever seen in a movie such as this because he kept his individuality and personal ideals in the forefront of his busy, conflicting life.

Without the tremendous amount of tension and struggle between his multiple realms of existence, I don’t think I Shaft would have been nearly as cool as he was. He just would have seemed like another stoic detective if he had not handled his crazy life with so much composure. Struggle and pain are two vital components to the kind of cool Shaft was; without those obstacles in the way Shaft would have seemed like nothing more than a really strong guy running around solving crimes and shooting people. Once you realize what he puts up with everyday though, you start to respect who he is and what he does.


  1. Nice post. You hit on who Shaft is very well. Why do you think though that we need this struggle in our cool figures?

  2. We like to see cool, heroic type people struggle because it is something we all relate. Life isn't easy for anyone, and we like the main figures in our entertainment to show that as well. A character wouldn't be much fun to watch if his life was easy and simple- we crave action, conflict, and drama in our movies and books or else very few people would give the plot the time of day.

  3. Very good entry, Hayley. I agree with FJohn that you've come a long way to understanding the character of Shaft.

    What do you think about the term "blaxploitation" and the implication that films made specifically for black people are indeed exploitation? If these films are exploitative, then what about other films that target certain audiences? Do you think the term is fair? Even though you didn't write about it specifically, I'm interested in your thoughts since you have made such great strides to understand Shaft.

    I think you've got this blogging thing down. Your entries are interesting, clear, and academic. Good work!