Director X takes on cult ‘70s film, SuperFly
“I wanted to make something true to the original. So we really did the work to make sure we could create something that was firmly based on the original Super Fly”, says Director X, who spoke to Us about his latest project. “I remember being pretty impressed with how raw it was. It felt pretty hardcore. I can imagine in the ‘70s it must’ve shook up everybody.” A younger, sexier, glossier version with better action sequences, X’s Superfly tells the story of Youngblood Priest (played by Trevor Jackson of Grown-ish fame), a career criminal living “the life” but who is sick of the game.
Referencing the film’s 1972 tagline, X says that the Chief “still has a plan to stick it to the Man” but notes that the film is very much a product of its time. “We had to make something super dope. It’s all very modern filmmaking and choreography. Our producer (Joel Silver) has made some of the best action movies ever made; Die Hard, Predator and The Matrix. This is very much a 2018 thing.”
Originally released in 1972, Super Fly was a critical and commercial success.The film was part of a controversial, new subgenre called Blaxploitation, which simultaneously exploited and mythologized inner-city black struggle of the ‘60s and '70s. Following in the wake Shaft and Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, these films awakened Hollywood to the power of black ticket buyers.
Despite their relatively short heyday in the ‘70s, blaxploitation films have had an influence on America’s cultural landscape. It was “entertainment that really had an impact on the world,” says X. He should know, having worked in an industry where the impact of blaxploitation movies can still be felt today: hip-hop music. Snoop Dogg, who has not only sampled the film in his music, but also has a song entitled “Im Fly”, has spoken openly about how he idolized characters from Blaxploitation films such as Mack and The Hammer. Many other hip-hop artists have also openly embraced the pimp image, with 50 Cent’s “P.I.M.P” record being an obvious example.
While X may not have grown up watching blaxploitation films, it would seem a natural move for a man who's made a career out of his ability to make hip-hop music videos instant classics to reimagine Gordon Park Jr’s Super Fly. A man who checks himself when asked who is the epitome of “Superfly” clearly has enough confidence to take on such an iconic and revered film. He is, by his own admission “Superfly”: “I epitomize Superfly. I am the lightning rod [laughs].”
To revive a film that knocked Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather off the top of the American box office chart, was always going to be tough, it was the film’s soundtrack by Curtis Mayfield that was truly the Mount Everest of rebooting Super Fly. It also happens to be one of the few soundtracks in history to out-gross the film it accompanies. So revered is the original soundtrack that Director X was quick to make it known that he could never dream of competing with the film’s original soundtrack. Instead he tried to find an artist like Mayfield who could create the voice of the film. According to X, no one but Future (also the co-producer of Superfly) could rise to such a challenge. “I wanted someone who had a singular vision like Curtis, who made music that was a commentary on the film itself. And that’s what Future did for us. Artistically, he really had the right chops. He’s at the forefront of modern sound.”
While the original soulful soundtrack has been updated with heavy beats and the naturalistic, gritty handheld shots are now slick, at its core the story remains true to Gordon Park Jr’s 1972 feature. The setting may have changed (urban Harlem makes way for modern day Atlanta/Rick Ross’s see-it-to-believe it 12-bedroom mansion) and living “the life” today involves more gadgets but less cocaine snorting, and wads of cash are reserved for strippers not suitcases (cryptocurrency is the 21st century equivalent), but the dream still remains the same. “The Chief is still on the same mission,” says X, “to go from a bottom place in society to the top. To succeed against all odds. It still is the dream.”
Superfly is in cinemas June 13.