Director X on the social justice commentary of ‘SUPERFLY’
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
Updating a beloved classic film can be tricky business. Not all remakes pay their respects to the source material as fluidly and successfully as Director X’s modernization of the 1972 blaxploitation classic, SUPERFLY. Maybe that’s because the tissue connecting the two films, separating each by decades, is a timeless commentary on social justice. Each film was able to channel timely societal frustrations, turning them into defiant art.
Not only is the main protagonist Priest (played in 1972 by Ron O’Neal and in 2018 by Trevor Jackson) forced to battle a ruthless rival gang, but also two crooked white cops, Detective Mason(Jennifer Morrison) and police officer Turk Franklin (Brian F. Durkin). The duo engage in extortion, blackmail and even cold-blooded murder. And things couldn’t get more apropos than when Priest and Officer Franklin engage in fisticuffs – a fight that feels gratifying on the audience’s end, considering we don’t see similar outcomes in real life.
At the film’s recent press day, I spoke with Director X about infusing this pressing sentiment into his art.
Your film embodies a lot of the frustrations going on in society. When Priest gets to finally unleashes on the white cop, it felt like such a catharsis.
That’s built on into the original. At the end of SUPER FLY, he beats up the cops. It was a tagline: Priest beats up the cops. But at the same time, where that frustration the police and the black community have that history, it’s been a battle for a long time. That scene was that cathartic moment for that audience. This, especially now, in the time we live in and the things that have been happening recently, it serendipitously turns into that cathartic moment for the audience to finally see something happen. You know the reality is nothing happens.
Why do you think this movie in particular came across your path now?
I don’t know. Sometimes, it’s just work. For me, as a director, this allowed me to make a movie that fits my strengths – like the opening scene. That place with the red and the blue and the starburst. Then we go to Mask and it’s a strip club, but not a normal strip club. [laughs] I was able to turn everything up – that super fly philosophy throughout. We coulda done a single level building somewhere, but we’re doing a super fly strip club. It’s gonna be multi-level with chandeliers and people hanging from the ceiling and there’s gold and people have masks. For me, on my level, this film gave me that freedom to do a narrative that you can take serious and get invested in, but at the same time, have the visuals that are exciting.
Then socially, what’s going on with the police and what this movie takes on, really, it wouldn’t be the same ten years ago. It’s always an issue, but right now, it’s so much in the forefront. We see this stuff happen and we know how it goes, time and time again. Even if it’s for a couple minutes in a movie where we actually get some justice, at least somewhere we get a moment.
SUPERFLY is now playing.