Thursday, March 19, 2009

Pulled In Two Directions

Racism—not an issue that was directly addressed in the movie Shaft, but definitely an ever-present, underlying theme. Several instances and situations really stood out to me: Shaft’s “white man’s” job and “black man’s” attitude, his witty white jokes, and the conflict between the white mob and the black gang were just a few of them. I took Adam Frank’s class on race for Honors Core III, and since then, I’ve been more sensitive to things such as racial jokes and issues—perhaps too sensitive. Nevertheless, that is where my mind went when watching this film.

The main issue, I believe, was that Shaft was continually trying to bridge the gap between his profession and his culture. His coworkers never seemed to be able to trust him. They continually doubted his motives. It seemed like his “brothers” considered him a traitor, and were also unsure of Shaft’s intentions. This was made excruciatingly apparent when in response to something Ben says, Shaft replies, “I ain’t no Judas.” It seemed as if Shaft was considered too “white” for the black gangs to trust, and too “black” for the majority of his coworkers. However, there was one specific interaction with his friend on the police force, Lt. Victor Androzzi. Androzzi tells Shaft that he “is not so black” while holding a black pen to Shaft’s face. Shaft replies with, “You aren’t so white yourself,” and holds a white mug to Androzzi’s face. To me, this was an obvious racial relations situation that was placed in the film to make a statement. Perhaps that we are less of what we think we are and more similar to what we think we are not. That the two colors—black and white—in mankind, are more similar rather than opposites.

Another thing that really stood out to me, was how Shaft was continually making white jokes, especially towards his white coworkers. Granted, they were funny, but I did wonder what the motives or thought processes were behind them. I came up with one solution: he was trying to separate himself. He wanted to differentiate between himself and the white men he worked with. Maybe this was a result of the outcast he had become in the parts of the black society, maybe not. Perhaps Shaft simply desired to be known as separate—as an entity set apart. I believe he attained that. Shaft did distance himself from both “sides”—white and black—but in doing so, I believe he gained respect from both also.


  1. If what you say is true, why didn't this message that black and white translate into latter blaxplotation films?

  2. Interesting take on the underlying tones of the film. You're right to point out the racism in the film because it's certainly there. You've thought about it enough to realize that Shaft wasn't a victim of his white co-workers, but his black "brethren" as well. Do you think the director and the writers were getting at something far deeper than the divisions of skin color?

    Regarding your comment about becoming "too" sensitive to racism, that's actually a constant argument that I hear about racial studies. If we study race, we become race-conscious, and those who had fewer prejudices based on race (because no one is without prejudice) beforehand see it more often and are often more sensitive to it. I believe race studies are very important, but it's a very fair question to ask if the effect they are having is what is desired.