Hollywood’s wonky attempts to remake or reboot classic film franchises won’t find themselves disappearing anytime soon. The delicate art of reaching new eyes while simultaneously satisfying original fans is something few contemporary feature-length offerings have successfully pulled off. Creating some of pop music’s finest visual adaptations two decades in for everyone including Rihanna, Drake, Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West and a host of others, Director X makes his major motion picture debut for a remake of Gordon Parks, Jr. directed blaxploitation classic Superfly. Stepping in the shoes of Ron O’Neal’s iconic portrayal of Youngblood Priest in the 1972 original is Grown-ish star Trevor Jackson as a drug dealer attempting to leave the game for good. Straight Outta Compton star Jason Mitchell co-stars as hot-headed partner-in-crime Eddie with Michael K. Williams and Lex Scott Davis rounding out the central cast.
READ: Big Boi from OutKast Joins The Cast Of Director X’s ‘SuperFly’ Reboot
Besides taking place in a more contemporary time period, SuperFly leaves post-civil-rights era Harlem behind for today’s black capitol Atlanta. According to Director X, the new setting couldn’t have made any more sense. “That actually works for where we are as a culture,” he said. “In the ‘70s, if you were a big artist in New York, you were big all around the world. Now that’s changed, if you’re big in Atlanta, you’re big around the world.” This makes having Future curate the official soundtrack a no-brainer after Director X brought up the idea to the Freebandz general while shooting the viral Gap commercial with Cher. Those expecting something similar to Curtis Mayfield’s classic soundtrack will probably find themselves disappointed despite some interesting homages paid to it.
READ: Future To Produce Director X’s ‘SuperFly’ Reboot & Score The Soundtrack
Director X hopes to draw fans of the original by taking the same exact approach with his take on SuperFly because he knows they’ll be watching. The question comes in how much liberty did he take with the source material.
Despite maintaining the same beats plot-wise, there’s a lot actually that mirrors the original. However, the differences could be best referred to as Al Pacino‘s now celebrated turn as Tony Montana in Scarface set in early 1980s Miami as opposed to the 1930s original’s Chicago setting.
Here are a few examples of exactly how they work in this version of SuperFly—for better or worse.
Jackson’s take on Priest lives in a world where real ones take heed to Biggie’s “Ten Crack Commandments,” unlike the original’s portrayal by O’Neal who casually snorted cocaine several times throughout the flick. Sending a nod to the original, Priest does have an Ankh tattoo on his neck.
“I didn’t want to do a movie where everyone was snorting coke all the time,” said Director X. “In the original, they’re snorting coke every five minutes. At that point, we tried to elevate. The right cool guy, doing the wrong thing can have some influence. We purposely did that. Priest might smoke a blunt a few times which makes sense culturally but I’m not trying to make coke snorting cool for kids.”
Georgia was definitely a woman who provided not just one of the most well-known sex-scenes in black cinema. The quintessential “down ass chick” first played by Sheila Frazier also served as Priest’s moral guide. Lex Scott Davis’ Georgia not only does that, but works for the Mayor while owning an art gallery as well.
“When it comes to women, you had to make them strong,” said Director X. “In the original, the treatment of women is wild. I mean most films from back in that era were.”
That also extends to a principle villain Detective Morrison played by Jennifer Morrison.
“Jennifer Morrison role as Detective Mason was actually written for a male until we decided in the process later to make her a woman,” said Director X. “It makes it a bigger world. Morrison gave a great performance and there is something a lot more sinister.”
The original SuperFly had Priest selling at a semi-low level in Harlem. In Director X’s adaptation, Priest is selling work across a nice portion of the United States. Jackson’s Priest isn’t worried about getting robbed by junkies. He’s worried about rival drug dealers comically called the Snow Patrol.
Earlier in the film, Priest follows his former mentor/karate instructor Scatter (Michael K. Williams thankfully providing more Omar vibes) to his plug in Mexico with the cartels which adds another layer of tension to the main narrative. This means an introduction to a subplot featuring new characters including Omar Chaparro as Adalberto, a cartel leader who becomes Priest’s main supplier.
“Priest gets approached by police officers and they supply him with the drugs in the original,” said Director X. “In that time in the ‘70s, it made sense for the idea of police officers supplying drugs to the community. To make sense now in regards to making millions, dirty cops can’t provide that much work. This is what led us to Mexican cartels and the new characters. Each one of those choices started with the original film. If we hit something that wasn’t believable in the contemporary sense, then we had to make changes that made sense to the story.”
In an age of #BlackExcellence and the much understood need to maintain positive images of African Americans at all times on screen, the idea of a SuperFly remake could be seen as a step backwards. There’s no coincidence many had issues with the original as well and for better reason due to the real lack of representation in Hollywood at the time. The past couple of years have given us pretty diverse looks into black life and ideology whether one wants to have conversations about superhero juggernaut Black Panther, a raunchy female led comedy Girls Trip or whatever Madea idea Tyler Perry comes up with. SuperFly is an action-crime-thriller where the focus is on criminality in the way it’s greatest inspirations like Scarface aspired to be.
Nothing made a blaxploitation film more than heavy-handed preaching about “The Man.” For some black folks, it was open defiance of a racists system that many knew existed but chose to ignore. The idea of police or the government providing drugs for the community sounded like a radical concept despite obviously being steeped in real truths. SuperFly 2K18 not only features dirty cops, but even features a scene involving the murder of a character due to police brutality shot purposely from a dash cam and even offers subtle references to the destruction of Confederate statues.
Superfly is currently in theaters now. Peep the trailer below and get your ticket here.
Ural Garrett is a Los Angeles-based writer, photographer, author and video producer whose work has appeared in everything from Complex to HipHopDX. Follow him on his adventures @UralG.
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