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Letters

'Shaft' Transcended Race

June 02, 2002

The original "Shaft" was not blaxploitation. John Shaft was the first black hero image with an appeal to both black and white ("Creative Soul Mates," by Anne Valdespino, May 26). Pictures that followed, such as "Superfly," were definitely the kind of pictures described by the adjective "blaxploitation."

On behalf of Gordon Parks, the director, and myself, the producer of the original "Shaft," we certainly don't agree that "Shaft" should be mentioned in the same genre as those films that followed. "Shaft" was filmed entirely in New York for a cost of $1.24 million, and it was extremely successful because it appealed to both black and white audiences.

I concur that John Singleton didn't get the attitude right in his interpretation of Shaft's nephew in the remake.

Richard Roundtree as the original John Shaft was cool, and Samuel L. Jackson in the remake was downright mean.

JOEL FREEMAN

Sherman Oaks

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Valdespino is a little fuzzy on her history. The studio system began its decline in the early '50s when studios had to sell off their theaters and lost direct feedback on audience response to their product. They continued to make films aimed at the declining "adult" audience while exhibitors' bread and butter came from steadfast 12- to 24-year-olds, whose tastes ran to action and horror films.

Additionally, white flight to the suburbs in the '60s left big-city downtown movie palaces to black audiences, whose tastes also ran to the latter types of films.

That it was economically viable to target films to this audience was proved by the sleeper success of the now-forgotten 1968 film "If He Hollers, Let Him Go." This paved the way for "Cotton Comes to Harlem" (1970), then "Shaft" (1971), which led to the explosion of blaxploitation films the following year.

Valdespino is to be commended for acknowledging that these films were as popular with other racial and ethnic groups as with blacks, a point other writers on the genre tend to overlook.

RICK MITCHELL

Los Angeles

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