Black Dynamite director Scott Sanders on film
In Issue 38, writer and blaxploitation expert Mark Randolph interviewed Black Dynamite director Scott Sanders. We give you online bonus coverage where Sanders speaks specifically about which blaxploitation films influenced him.
Name three blaxploitation films you feel are important.
Well, the ones that influenced this movie are very clear: The Mack (1973), Willie Dynamite (1974), and Dolemite (1975). I love The Mack. I mean, The Mack is hard for real. Like, “Shut the fuck up when grown folks is talking!” [laughs] It’s hard for real still. Its weird how history gives you a lens to look at something, and then something becomes much bigger than it was at the time. So like The Mack is the biggest one now, but at the time it wasn’t. I think Shaft was, but I’m just guessing. As far as influence, I think The Mack is the one. Of course, I love Willie Dynamite too.
You can see Willie Dynamite’s influence as well as Dolemite’s, which many people believe ruined the blaxploitation genre.
I think it’s more watchable than a lot of them and consistently funny all the way through. It’s more quotable. We probably have more Dolemite lines in the movie than anything else, like, “Where is Bucky and what has he had!” I don’t even know why that’s funny!
It just is. Those original blaxploitation films had that unmistakable quality.
With Dolemite, they tried to be funny lots of time. I mean, he was kinda funny, but he was funny when he really didn’t mean to be. Especially when he was trying to be serious. That line was delivered dead serious, and it was hilarious! There is a lot of Dolemite stuff in there. The character Bullhorn is based on Dolemite. In fact, our only blaxploitation royalty is someone who played in the original film. He’s in this movie. It’s funny, because on IMDB.com, they said he was dead! His name is John Kerry and he played Mitchell, the evil white cop in Dolemite. In Black Dynamite, he plays the mafia chief. He was totally off the radar, and he was excellent. He says “Nigger!” really well! He’s one of those White actors that do it really well.
The marked difference between your film and those classics is that the laughs are in all the appropriate places. When Dolemite is kicking ass in those tight jumpsuits, the audience is supposed to be in awe!
Exactly. I got the sex scene from Dolemite. Mike never touched a porn star. It was all with the camera!
In another nod to Dolemite, when Bullhorn does his rap, the other characters seemed to be tortured by his overblown, drawn-out signifying rhyme.
We shot more of that stuff, and Byron [Mimms], one of the cowriters of the movie, wrote that and performed it perfectly. It was one of those ’70s things which absolutely did not translate. In 2008, you can’t just stop a movie to do a poem! That’s one of the things about the movie. How do you show what they have done and also make it relevant for today? But you can’t expect our audience to hear “Signifying Monkey” stuff and start cracking up. It shows that how long ago that was.
The film has a self-indulgent quality. It’s for the student of blaxploitation, but there is clearly a conscious attempt to appeal to a larger audience.
Yeah. It’s weird because you have to figure out what you like, what do other people like, and as far as historically accurate, what it was.
As in, what was blaxploitation?
Yeah, what was blaxploitation? What did they do? I actually have a weird thing with blaxploitation. I like to see it in hunks. I don’t want to sit there and watch hardly any blaxploitation [picture] all the way through. I just want a highlight reel! [laughs] There were a lot of scenes where people just literally walk to their cars. There is a lot of dead time in those movies. So we had to cut a lot of that stuff out. There is not gonna be scenes like, “Okay, Black Dynamite is walking to his car, fumbling with his key, thinking.”
Where did the idea for the animated ’70s zodiac sex scene come from?
The idea behind that is interesting because I was pretty sure Salli Richardson wasn’t going to be in a sex scene. [laughs] It was out of necessity! This was a low-budget movie, and I thought, “What do we do?” Then I came up with the idea of one of those ’70s posters coming to life. It was animated by 6 Point Harness. It’s an animation company in L.A. that did the very controversial short Read a Book, N***a, Read a Book. They also did the one at the end of the film. We might be working on an animated series with them. It’ll be very different than Black Dynamite.
Do you think there could be a Black Dynamite 2? The door seems to be left open.
From the beginning, we thought we could make a series of these things. Because they’re cheap. It’s cheap, kind of distinctive, and idiosyncratic. I think we could. I mean, I’ll do Black Dynamite all day long! I’d be perfectly fine with it. It’s fun. I was thinking about the prequel, because he used to be in the C.I.A.—Black Dynamite: The Best C.I.A. Agent the C.I.A. Ever Had!