There is some much-needed comic-relief in this Shaft, but sadly this film hasn’t grown up when it comes to its treatment of women while still loving a good ’70s stereotype.
When the original incarnation of Shaft came out in the ’70s, it represented an all-encompassing view of the decade that changed the United States. Many termed it the third great awakening with a stark contrast in individualism and stepping away from community ideals. Shaft embraced that concept with recognizing the sexual revolution while still keeping their roots in communitarianism. Unfortunately, the most recently updated version of those films views on women and stereotypes are still stuck in that decade.
While Shaft is still played by Samuel L. Jackson, the film has shifted tones since the Richard Roundtree years. Director Tim Story (Think Like A Man) takes over for the late John Singleton while adding some much-needed comic-relief in this sequel, to the ’00 sequel, to the #MeDecade franchise of numerous sequels (did we follow that?). The film picks up where the possible love of Shaft’s life, Maya (Support The Girls’ Regina Hall), takes their child away from him after they were caught in a crossfire shoot out with newborn Junior in the back seat. Flash forward nearly twenty years later, J.J. (Independence Day‘s Jessie Usher) is working at the FBI, when his best friend is killed. He then unwittingly enlists the help of his estranged father to help solve the case.
Story’s version of Shaft isn’t a Blaxploitation or even a throwback to ’80s action buddy comedies. The script by Kenya Barris is much more in line with his comedy film Ride Along, delivering a few solid laughs. Though, I question the need to reboot a film with the same actor playing the lead, then changing the genre as a cheap way to capitalize on a few dollars. Why not wipe the complete slate clean? The fact is, this film is stuck on its views of women as objects and is still in love with a good stereotype. I have seen a fair point being made about Shaft being a product of his time, and J.J. is more of a nerdy, progressive type. The fact is the script’s overall view of women and stereotypes doesn’t change outside of the main character’s viewpoint; this relegates the story to being stuck in neutral.
While Shaft can be enjoyed as an action buddy-comedy while turning a blind eye to its faults, it still remains an iconic blaxploitation franchise. That being said, there needs to a complete concept overhaul going forward. I think the character needs a hard look with a younger actor, say, Chadwick Boseman. He will have a greater appeal, set the new film in the Me Decade that takes on issues of race relations, the third great awakening, sexual revolution, female empowerment, that this updated action comedy doesn’t take seriously (how many remakes have we seen unceremoniously remade into action buddy-comedies this decade?). Maybe they even film a scene where a dinner table isn’t the only thing to stop a speeding bullet, or bad guys might bring their own to a gun fight. The genre needs a progressive update and this character deserves better.
M.N. Miller has been a film and television writer for Ready Steady Cut since August of 2018 and is patiently waiting for the next Pearl Jam album to come out.