Super Fly (1972)

R | 96-98 mins | Drama | 4 August 1972

Director:

Gordon Parks Jr.

Writer:

Phillip Fenty

Producer:

Sig Shore

Cinematographer:

James Signorelli

Editor:

Bob Brady

Production Company:

Superfly, Ltd.
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HISTORY

Some contemporary and modern sources list the film’s title as Superfly , although the opening title card and copyright records list it as two words. According to some reviews of the film, the term “super fly” was slang for high-quality cocaine, while other reviews stated that it meant the pusher himself, or meant a superlative adjective that could be applied to anything. The first name of actress and former model Sheila Frazier, who made her debut in Super Fly , is spelled “Sheila” in the opening cast credits and “Shiela” in the ending credits. Producer Sig Shore, who plays “Deputy Commissioner Reardon,” is billed in the cast credits as Mike Richards. In the middle of the film, a sequence of still photographs, taken by director Gordon Parks, Jr., illustrates how the thirty kilos of cocaine purchased by “Youngblood Priest” and “Eddie” is prepared, distributed and used.
       Although a Sep 1971 HR article listed Shore’s company Plaza Productions as the film’s intended production company, Superfly, Ltd. is listed onscreen and by copyright materials. The article also reported that the distribution arm of Shore’s company, Plaza Pictures, would distribute Super Fly , but in mid-Apr 1972, Var reported that neither Plaza company would be involved with the film. According to a 17 Sep 1972 NYT article, the project was initially brought to Shore by first-time screenplay writer Philip Fenty after Fenty and actor Ron O’Neal, a longtime friend, had worked together to develop the story.
       As reported by Filmfacts , as well as other contemporary news items and reviews, Super Fly was “the ... More Less

Some contemporary and modern sources list the film’s title as Superfly , although the opening title card and copyright records list it as two words. According to some reviews of the film, the term “super fly” was slang for high-quality cocaine, while other reviews stated that it meant the pusher himself, or meant a superlative adjective that could be applied to anything. The first name of actress and former model Sheila Frazier, who made her debut in Super Fly , is spelled “Sheila” in the opening cast credits and “Shiela” in the ending credits. Producer Sig Shore, who plays “Deputy Commissioner Reardon,” is billed in the cast credits as Mike Richards. In the middle of the film, a sequence of still photographs, taken by director Gordon Parks, Jr., illustrates how the thirty kilos of cocaine purchased by “Youngblood Priest” and “Eddie” is prepared, distributed and used.
       Although a Sep 1971 HR article listed Shore’s company Plaza Productions as the film’s intended production company, Superfly, Ltd. is listed onscreen and by copyright materials. The article also reported that the distribution arm of Shore’s company, Plaza Pictures, would distribute Super Fly , but in mid-Apr 1972, Var reported that neither Plaza company would be involved with the film. According to a 17 Sep 1972 NYT article, the project was initially brought to Shore by first-time screenplay writer Philip Fenty after Fenty and actor Ron O’Neal, a longtime friend, had worked together to develop the story.
       As reported by Filmfacts , as well as other contemporary news items and reviews, Super Fly was “the first black-oriented film to be financed entirely by blacks (in this case, a group of businessmen from the Harlem community) as well as the first to use an all-black and/or Puerto Rican technical crew.” In mid-Apr 1972, Var noted that, because of the black-oriented nature of the screenplay, Fenty and Parks, Jr. directly approached “the Harlem community for financial backing,” which they obtained from a consortium of “businessmen, lawyers, dentists et al.” The film’s pressbook adds that the consortium of eighteen investors included “pimps, madams and drug dealers.” In a Sep 1972 Var article, Parks, Jr. specifically thanked his father, director Gordon Parks, Sr., and two black dentists, Ed Allen and Connie [Cornelius] Jenkins, for financing the production.
       As noted in reviews, the picture was shot completely in New York City, and mostly in Harlem. In mid-Apr 1972, Var reported that the film’s low-key, successful location shooting in Harlem was due to its being “a non-union effort, thus the lack of production publicity and ease of using all-black technicians.” The article added that after raising the required funds, the filmmakers agreed to their backers’ request that “as many blacks as possible [be employed] in front and behind the camera,” although the financiers agreed to allow white producer Shore oversee the project. The picture reportedly cost less than $500,000 to make and was acquired for distribution by Warner Bros. after its completion. According to modern sources, K. C., who played a pimp in the film, was a pimp in real life and owned the car driven by Priest. K. C.’s only other motion picture appearance was in the 1972 United Artists release Across 110th Street (see above), which was also filmed on location in New York City.
       After Super Fly ’s release, Filmfacts reported that the picture “turned out to be the most commercially successful black film to date—as well as the most controversial.” Reviews of the picture were mixed, with some critics praising its authenticity and others decrying it as exploitive and poorly made. Time ’s reviewer, Jay Cocks, irritated by the picture’s stereotypes and lack of technical proficiency, declared: “What makes a crummy little movie like Super Fly worth getting angry about is the implication behind it: that movies made for black audiences have to be, or can easily be, so casually and contemptuously awful.” The HR critic, on the other hand, praised the film as one of “remarkable power” and “a revelation, technically,” that realistically captured the “struggle confronting those ghetto denizens who refuse to accept the life to which they have been consigned.”
       Among the film’s many critics was Junius Griffin, the then-president of the Hollywood branch of the NAACP. Griffin, before he resigned his post in Aug 1972, demanded that Warner Bros. recall prints of the film from distribution and reshoot the ending so that Priest would be killed or otherwise punished for his drug usage and dealing. The National Catholic Office gave the film a “C,” or condemned, rating, stating: “This kind of black liberation serves only to deceive the brothers and play upon the fears of black audiences.” Many African-American groups and critics targeted the film, asserting that it glorified drug usage, violence, obtaining wealth through crime and sexual stereotypes about black men. One of the groups formed specifically to fight the film and other “similar exploitations films,” according to a Sep 1972 Var article, called itself Blacks Against Narcotics. The new group charged that Super Fly was “super-genocide” and that it was “the latest Hollywood game being run on black people.” A 28 Jan 1973 LAT article, which called the group BANG (Blacks Against Narcotics and Genocide), reported that it had picketed the movie and O’Neal, when he made personal appearances in Washington, D.C. to support the movie, but its efforts “had little apparent impact.”
       Outcry against the film prompted several groups in Los Angeles, notably the Coalition Against Blaxploitation (CAB) and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), to assert that a separate ratings and review board for black films should be set up and overseen by CORE, according to the Jan 1973 LAT article. Roy Innis, the leader of CORE, also proposed that a black review board should “pre-edit” African-American-oriented films before they were theatrically released and that profits from the pictures be turned over to black-dominated communities to advance educational opportunities. Although this plan was much discussed throughout the mid-1970s, it was not implemented.
       O’Neal, Shore and Parks, Jr. vehemently defended the film many times, with O’Neal, in an Oct 1972 LAHExam interview, pointing out that the picture presented “a true slice of Harlem life” and that Priest triumphs at the end by using his wits, not just physical force. In the Sep 1972 NYT interview, O’Neal also defended the film by stating that cocaine was not a major drug problem among African Americans, and that not only was it not addictive, it had never caused an overdose. His position was opposed by numerous physicians and medical groups, who also spoke out against the film, according to Filmfacts .
       In the Jan 1973 LAT article, Parks, Jr. defended the film by asserting that black audiences, critics and filmgoers needed to support black artists while they attempted to break into the white-dominated motion picture industry, even if their initial efforts were not completely acceptable to all audiences. Parks, Jr. added that he and other black directors wanted to become “a Fellini or a Bergman. But we can’t do these things right away. There’s a learning process. Remember, blacks just got into films.” The article supported his viewpoint, asserting: “Since mid-1970, at least 51 films about blacks have been released. Those released in the previous decade could probably be counted on one hand.”
       According to an Oct 1972 LAT article, Var had reported that by Sep 1972, Super Fly was third behind The Godfather and Play It Again, Sam (see above for both) in the list of top-grossing films of 1972. In commenting on the success of Super Fly at the box office, a Jan 1973 DV article reported that investors Allen and Jenkins had sold their 22 ½ percent interest in the film “profitably,” and that the “principals” involved in the production were “getting handsome payoffs.” According to a 12 Mar 1973 NYT article, the picture had grossed $20 million in seven months, and modern sources added that despite the film’s controversial nature, it went on to gross more than $30 million by 2007.
       Additionally, according to the Jan 1973 DV report, Curtis Mayfield, the composer of the film’s score and hit songs, was estimated to be receiving “about $5,000,000 from performance and royalties” from the more than 2,000,000 albums and singles sold to that point. Mayfield, who made his film scoring debut with Super Fly , received a Grammy nomination for the film’s soundtrack.
       In Jan 1973, trade papers reported that although it previously had been announced as under consideration as a nominee, Mayfield’s song “Freddie’s Dead” had been ruled ineligible for entry in the Best Original Song category because it appeared in the film only as an instrumental. [The soundtrack album did feature the lyrics written for the song by Mayfield.] After the announcement, Warner Bros. issued an apology for its erroneous submission of the song for consideration. Controversy continued to swirl around the Academy’s decision to exclude the song, with the executive committee of the music branch convening to discuss the song’s ineligibility. According to a 5 Feb 1973 DV article, the meeting was held “because of the emotions involved,” and the song’s exclusion was upheld.
       On 23 Feb 1973, DV related that Mayfield had filed a letter of complaint with the Academy over its method of selecting nominees. The article noted that Mayfield was not qualified for a nomination for Best Dramatic Score because “five songs needed to be submitted, and Warners only submitted three.” Although the article stated that Mayfield’s manager was contemplating filing suit against the Academy, the action was not taken. It was also noted that Mayfield had accused the Academy of a racial bias, although he was declining to file suit because the title song from Super Fly had been considered for the Oscar balloting.
       Another controversy surrounding Mayfield’s score for Super Fly arose from the role of arranger Johnny Pate, who receives onscreen credit as “music conducted by.” As reported by a Sep 1972 LAT article, Pate, with whom Mayfield had worked several times before the film’s soundtrack, claimed that Mayfield had “merely dictated ideas,” while it was Pate who did the actual “arranging, scoring, voicing, or orchestrating.” Mayfield disputed Pate’s statements that he was unacknowledged, noting that Pate did receive adequate credit for his contributions on the Super Fly soundtrack liner notes.
       The picture marked the first feature film directed by Gordon Parks, Jr. (1934—1979), the son of Gordon Parks, Sr., who directed the 1971 picture Shaft (see above), one of the first major blaxploitation films. [According to contemporary sources, O’Neal, the star of Super Fly , had been considered to star in Shaft but was deemed too light-skinned for the role.] Like his father, Parks, Jr. was also a well-known still photographer. The unit publicist on the film, David Parks, was Parks, Jr.’s brother. Parks, Jr. would make only three more films before his death in 1979 in an airplane crash. In addition, the picture marked the first screenplay written by Philip Fenty.
       Super Fly also marked the first effort as a motion picture producer for Shore (1919—2006), who went on to produce the two sequels to Super Fly . The first, Super Fly T.N.T. , was released in 1973 and was directed by and starred O’Neal, in addition to Frazier, who reprised her role as “Georgia.” Shore also directed the second sequel, The Return of Superfly , which was released in 1990 and starred Nathan Purdee as Priest. More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
14 Aug 1971
p. 4514.
Cue
12 Aug 1972.
---
Daily Variety
28 Jun 1972.
---
Daily Variety
26 Jul 1972.
---
Daily Variety
4 Oct 1972.
---
Daily Variety
19 Jan 1973
p. 34.
Daily Variety
30 Jan 1973.
---
Daily Variety
5 Feb 1973.
---
Daily Variety
23 Feb 1973.
---
Daily Variety
27 Feb 1973.
---
Filmfacts
1972
pp. 445-48.
Hollywood Reporter
27 Sep 1971.
---
Hollywood Reporter
26 Jul 1972
p. 3, 14.
Hollywood Reporter
30 Jan 1973.
---
Los Angeles Herald Examiner
23 Sep 1972.
---
Los Angeles Herald Express
2 Oct 1972.
---
Los Angeles Times
12 Sep 1972
Section D, p. 11.
Los Angeles Times
20 Sep 1972.
---
Los Angeles Times
5 Oct 1972
Section E, p. 20.
Los Angeles Times
6 Jan 1973
Section B, p. 5.
Los Angeles Times
28 Jan 1973
Section O, p. 18.
Los Angeles Times
18 Feb 1973
Section V, p. 16.
Los Angeles Times
23 Aug 2006
Section B, p. 10.
Motion Picture Herald
Sep 1972.
---
New York Times
28 Nov 1971.
---
New York Times
5 Aug 1972
p. 14.
New York Times
13 Aug 1972
Section D, p. 9.
New York Times
17 Sep 1972.
---
New York Times
27 Sep 1972
p. 37.
New York Times
12 Nov 1972
Section 3, p. 1, 3.
New York Times
17 Dec 1972.
---
New York Times
12 Mar 1973.
---
Time
11 Sep 1972.
---
Variety
12 Apr 1972.
---
Variety
2 Aug 1972
p. 18.
Variety
23 Aug 1972.
---
Variety
13 Sep 1972.
---
Variety
20 Sep 1972.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
The Sig Shore Production
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Prod
Assoc prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Still seq photog
Lighting
Chief elec
Chief grip
FILM EDITORS
Asst ed
Apprentice ed
COSTUMES
Fashions
Ward des
Jewelry
MUSIC
Mus comp, arr and orch
Mus cond
Mus coord
Mus ed
SOUND
Sd man
Boom man
Eff ed
Sd studio
VISUAL EFFECTS
Optical eff & titling by
MAKEUP
Makeup
Hair styling
Hair styling
PRODUCTION MISC
Scr girl
Asst prod mgr
Unit pub
SOURCES
MUSIC
"Freddie's Dead" by Curtis Mayfield.
SONGS
"Pusherman," "Little Child Runnin' Wild," "No Thing on Me," "Give Me Your Love" and "Superfly," music and lyrics by Curtis Mayfield.
COMPOSER
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
Superfly
Release Date:
4 August 1972
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 4 August 1972
Production Date:
January--mid April 1972 in New York City
Copyright Claimant:
Superfly, Ltd.
Copyright Date:
4 August 1972
Copyright Number:
LP41650
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
DeLuxe
Duration(in mins):
96-98
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
SYNOPSIS

Youngblood Priest, an African-American drug dealer who specializes in selling cocaine, enjoys a luxurious lifestyle in Harlem. Priest, so-called because the tip of the cross he wears is fasioned in the shape of a spoon, with which he frequently samples his wares, yearns to leave “the life” and go straight, despite the money he makes. One day, Priest confronts Fat Freddie, one of his clients, about money that Freddie owes and threatens to force Freddie’s wife into prostitution unless he robs a competitor. Although the timid Freddie abhors violence, he agrees and accompanies a member of Priest’s “family” of lower-level dealers to commit the robbery. After the men leave, Priest finds his partner, Eddie, and asks him how much cash they currently have. When Eddie states that they have $300,000, Priest reveals his plan to buy thirty kilos of high-quality cocaine, which they can sell for $1,000,000 within four months. With such a big score, they will be able to retire comfortably and find other employment, although Eddie protests that crime is the only option left to them by “The Man.” Priest is determined, however, and that night, approaches Scatter, a retired dealer who started Priest in the business. Scatter, who now runs a popular restaurant, initially refuses to help Priest, but Priest plays on his emotions, claiming that he wants to get out while he is young and before he has to endure the extreme hardships faced by Scatter. The hot-tempered Eddie threatens Scatter, demanding that he reveal his source if he will not supply them, but Scatter disarms Eddie and holds him at gunpoint. Priest diffuses the ... +


Youngblood Priest, an African-American drug dealer who specializes in selling cocaine, enjoys a luxurious lifestyle in Harlem. Priest, so-called because the tip of the cross he wears is fasioned in the shape of a spoon, with which he frequently samples his wares, yearns to leave “the life” and go straight, despite the money he makes. One day, Priest confronts Fat Freddie, one of his clients, about money that Freddie owes and threatens to force Freddie’s wife into prostitution unless he robs a competitor. Although the timid Freddie abhors violence, he agrees and accompanies a member of Priest’s “family” of lower-level dealers to commit the robbery. After the men leave, Priest finds his partner, Eddie, and asks him how much cash they currently have. When Eddie states that they have $300,000, Priest reveals his plan to buy thirty kilos of high-quality cocaine, which they can sell for $1,000,000 within four months. With such a big score, they will be able to retire comfortably and find other employment, although Eddie protests that crime is the only option left to them by “The Man.” Priest is determined, however, and that night, approaches Scatter, a retired dealer who started Priest in the business. Scatter, who now runs a popular restaurant, initially refuses to help Priest, but Priest plays on his emotions, claiming that he wants to get out while he is young and before he has to endure the extreme hardships faced by Scatter. The hot-tempered Eddie threatens Scatter, demanding that he reveal his source if he will not supply them, but Scatter disarms Eddie and holds him at gunpoint. Priest diffuses the situation and persuades Scatter to help them, although Scatter warns that it will be the last time. Soon after, Priest and Eddie are joined by one of their low-level dealers and Freddie, who turns over the money he stole and agrees that “the beef” between the men is settled. That night, Priest enjoys a romantic bath with his girl friend Georgia, although she disapproves of his drug usage. When Priest reacts hostilely, Georgia explains that she loves him and wants to help him cope with the difficulties of street life. The next day, Freddie is picked up for fighting, and when he is beaten by the police, he reveals when and where Priest and Eddie are to pick up the first kilo of cocaine from Scatter. As he is escorted outside to be booked in another precinct, Freddie attempts to escape and is killed when he dashes in front of a car. Meanwhile, Priest and Georgia are walking in a park, and Priest confesses that he has made a deal that will enable them to escape their current life. Georgia pleads with Priest to quit immediately, as she does not care if they are poor, but Priest maintains he must get the money, because his criminal record will make it difficult for him to find a job. That night, after picking up the kilo from Scatter, Priest and Eddie are apprehended by several policemen. The lieutenant in charge reveals that he is Scatter’s supplier and that the two men can now go directly to him. The lieutenant tells them they can have as much “weight,” or kilos of cocaine, as they want, and will be extended both credit and protection. After the police leave, Eddie is elated by the new situation, claiming that they are set for life, although Priest is still determined to quit after selling the thirty kilos. Soon after, the drugs are cut and being sold by Priest and Eddie’s family, with many buyers being attracted by the high quality. Priest’s white mistress, Cynthia, also sells to her friends, although she is dismayed to learn that Priest does not return her love and is planning on quitting the business. Priest explains that as a child, he thought he wanted all the trappings of success and wealth, including a lover like her, but now wants a simpler life and will be ending their relationship. Their argument is interrupted by the sudden arrival of Scatter, who is being pursued by his supplier. Scatter reveals that the real head of the operation is Deputy Commissioner Reardon, who is trying to kill him for quitting. Scatter gives Priest a packet of information on Reardon and his family, then arranges to meet him later, when Priest will give him money with which to flee New York. After leaving Cynthia’s apartment, however, Scatter is captured by the corrupt policemen, who give him a fatal overdose of drugs and leave his body in Priest’s car. Both enraged and scared, Priest conducts a meeting with two white men, then confronts Eddie. Priest demands his half of their profits, and when Eddie protests that they should keep selling, Priest asserts that Scatter was murdered by the police, and that they also are in danger. After Priest leaves with the cash, Eddie betrays him by phoning the lieutenant. Priest has anticipated Eddie’s duplicity, however, and gives the briefcase carrying the money to a disguised Georgia in exchange for one full of rags. Outside, Priest is held by two patrolmen, although he smiles to himself as Georgia makes good her escape. Priest is then picked up by the lieutenant and other policemen and taken to the waterfront, where he is confronted by Reardon in person. Reardon threatens Priest that he must continue selling drugs as long as he is ordered to, but when Priest replies defiantly, the policemen begin to beat him. Using his knowledge of karate, Priest overcomes his foes, then reveals that he knows who Reardon is. Priest further explains that the men with whom he met were contract killers, whom he hired to murder Reardon and his entire family should anything happen to him. The powerless Reardon then watches as Priest stalks off, giving the policemen one final glare before driving off to join Georgia. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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