Cast & Crew
Gordon Parks Jr.
Youngblood Priest, an African-American drug dealer who specializes in selling cocaine, enjoys a luxurious lifestyle in Harlem. Priest, so-called because the tip of the cross he wears is fasioned in the shape of a spoon, with which he frequently samples his wares, yearns to leave "the life" and go straight, despite the money he makes. One day, Priest confronts Fat Freddie, one of his clients, about money that Freddie owes and threatens to force Freddie's wife into prostitution unless he robs a competitor. Although the timid Freddie abhors violence, he agrees and accompanies a member of Priest's "family" of lower-level dealers to commit the robbery. After the men leave, Priest finds his partner, Eddie, and asks him how much cash they currently have. When Eddie states that they have $300,000, Priest reveals his plan to buy thirty kilos of high-quality cocaine, which they can sell for $1,000,000 within four months. With such a big score, they will be able to retire comfortably and find other employment, although Eddie protests that crime is the only option left to them by "The Man." Priest is determined, however, and that night, approaches Scatter, a retired dealer who started Priest in the business. Scatter, who now runs a popular restaurant, initially refuses to help Priest, but Priest plays on his emotions, claiming that he wants to get out while he is young and before he has to endure the extreme hardships faced by Scatter. The hot-tempered Eddie threatens Scatter, demanding that he reveal his source if he will not supply them, but Scatter disarms Eddie and holds him at gunpoint. Priest diffuses the situation and persuades Scatter to help them, although Scatter warns that it will be the last time. Soon after, Priest and Eddie are joined by one of their low-level dealers and Freddie, who turns over the money he stole and agrees that "the beef" between the men is settled. That night, Priest enjoys a romantic bath with his girl friend Georgia, although she disapproves of his drug usage. When Priest reacts hostilely, Georgia explains that she loves him and wants to help him cope with the difficulties of street life. The next day, Freddie is picked up for fighting, and when he is beaten by the police, he reveals when and where Priest and Eddie are to pick up the first kilo of cocaine from Scatter. As he is escorted outside to be booked in another precinct, Freddie attempts to escape and is killed when he dashes in front of a car. Meanwhile, Priest and Georgia are walking in a park, and Priest confesses that he has made a deal that will enable them to escape their current life. Georgia pleads with Priest to quit immediately, as she does not care if they are poor, but Priest maintains he must get the money, because his criminal record will make it difficult for him to find a job. That night, after picking up the kilo from Scatter, Priest and Eddie are apprehended by several policemen. The lieutenant in charge reveals that he is Scatter's supplier and that the two men can now go directly to him. The lieutenant tells them they can have as much "weight," or kilos of cocaine, as they want, and will be extended both credit and protection. After the police leave, Eddie is elated by the new situation, claiming that they are set for life, although Priest is still determined to quit after selling the thirty kilos. Soon after, the drugs are cut and being sold by Priest and Eddie's family, with many buyers being attracted by the high quality. Priest's white mistress, Cynthia, also sells to her friends, although she is dismayed to learn that Priest does not return her love and is planning on quitting the business. Priest explains that as a child, he thought he wanted all the trappings of success and wealth, including a lover like her, but now wants a simpler life and will be ending their relationship. Their argument is interrupted by the sudden arrival of Scatter, who is being pursued by his supplier. Scatter reveals that the real head of the operation is Deputy Commissioner Reardon, who is trying to kill him for quitting. Scatter gives Priest a packet of information on Reardon and his family, then arranges to meet him later, when Priest will give him money with which to flee New York. After leaving Cynthia's apartment, however, Scatter is captured by the corrupt policemen, who give him a fatal overdose of drugs and leave his body in Priest's car. Both enraged and scared, Priest conducts a meeting with two white men, then confronts Eddie. Priest demands his half of their profits, and when Eddie protests that they should keep selling, Priest asserts that Scatter was murdered by the police, and that they also are in danger. After Priest leaves with the cash, Eddie betrays him by phoning the lieutenant. Priest has anticipated Eddie's duplicity, however, and gives the briefcase carrying the money to a disguised Georgia in exchange for one full of rags. Outside, Priest is held by two patrolmen, although he smiles to himself as Georgia makes good her escape. Priest is then picked up by the lieutenant and other policemen and taken to the waterfront, where he is confronted by Reardon in person. Reardon threatens Priest that he must continue selling drugs as long as he is ordered to, but when Priest replies defiantly, the policemen begin to beat him. Using his knowledge of karate, Priest overcomes his foes, then reveals that he knows who Reardon is. Priest further explains that the men with whom he met were contract killers, whom he hired to murder Reardon and his entire family should anything happen to him. The powerless Reardon then watches as Priest stalks off, giving the policemen one final glare before driving off to join Georgia.
Gordon Parks Jr.
E. Preston Reddick
The Horn Children
The Curtis Mayfield Experience
Gordon Parks Jr.
Reprinted by permission of Donald Bogle from his film reference
work, Blacks in American Films & Television: An Illustrated
Encyclopedia (Simon & Schuster)
Super Fly looks authentic: the Harlem settings, the streets and alleyways, the bars, and the tenements all paint an overriding bleak vision of urban decay, new terrain and a new kind of social realism for commercial cinema. It's a war zone with corrupt drug kingpins and their pushers. Priest has risen to power by standing outside the law. The law itself, so the picture reveals, is perverted and corrupt. The film ends with Priest defeating his white opponents (including the drug boss) and leaving the cocaine business with a hefty bankroll to boot.
At heart, Super Fly sends out mixed messages. At one point when a disgruntled Priest announces he wants to get out of the drug trade, his friend Eddie (Carl Lee) dismisses such thoughts. After all, so Eddie reasons, Priest has much that America is taught to value: "Eight track stereo, color TV in every room, and you can snort half a piece of dope every day. That's the American Dream." Priest himself knows he has the big car, the fine vines (clothes), and even the gorgeous women that are part of the package. Fundamentally, the film tells audiences that the American dream of success has become polluted and perverted into a nightmare of cold, hard materialism. Priest, however, is no political rebel with an agenda of political alternatives. This grand-style individualist just wants out. Yet he plans to take with him his material acquisitions and comforts (represented by the cache of money we know that he holds onto at the end of the film).
Audiences, however, chose to overlook the contradictions, enthusiastically accepting the wish-fulfillment ending. No one wanted to see a black hero defeated. Thus the main point again was that here was a black man living on his own terms.
Like Shaft, Priest was also, you might say, sexually audacious. Curiously enough, the big sex scene in Super Fly (it's a bathtub sequence with lots of suds covering some vital areas) like the sex scenes in other black films---Melinda, Slaughter, and Shaft---frequently was more graphic and lingering than those seen in most white movies of the time and looked as if it had been inserted to play on the legend of blacks' high-powered sexuality. While the movies now assiduously sought to avoid the stereotype of the asexual tom, they fell, interestingly enough, into the trap of presenting the hyper sexual man. Rarely was there a mature male view of sex as depicted in a movie like Nothing But A Man. Then, too, the women are rarely defined in any way other than as the hero's love interest. As in Shaft, Priest also has two women: one white (Polly Niles), the other black (Sheila Frazier). Again the idea is that the white woman---once placed on a pedestal in D. W. Griffith's The Birth of A Nation---is hardly virginal or pure; indeed she can be had. The black woman, who helps Priest make his triumph, is depicted at least as trying to reach the hero emotionally, to figure out what motivates him and to understand indeed who he is. Otherwise we know nothing else about her.
Technically, Super Fly was adequate. Some of its drive could be attributed to the musical score of Curtis Mayfield (who makes a brief appearance in the film). There was also actor Ron O'Neal's performance---or perhaps his perceptive lack of one. O'Neal presented an arrogant, enigmatic hustler who was careful not to reveal too much. In 1973, a fairly terrible sequel, Super Fly T.N.T, appeared, starring and directed by O'Neal with a script by Alex Haley. In 1990, there was a sorry attempt to revive Super Fly in The Return of Super Fly.
Producer: Sig Shore
Director: Gordon Parks, Jr.
Screenplay: Phillip Fenty
Cinematography: James Signorelli
Film Editing: Bob Brady
Music: Curtis Mayfield
Cast: Ron O'Neal (Youngblood Priest), Carl Lee (Eddie), Shelia Frazier (Georgia), Julius Harris (Scatter), Charles McGregor (Fat Freddie), Nate Adams (Dealer).
C-92m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.
Super Fly Reprinted by permission of Donald Bogle from his film reference work, Blacks in American Films & Television: An Illustrated Encyclopedia (Simon & Schuster)
Super Fly on DVD
Super Fly stars Ron O'Neal as Youngblood Priest, a coke-dealer looking to get out of the game with one last score that is big enough to allow him to move on. His friends don't understand what the rush is all about, after all, he's got beautiful women, nice digs, all the drugs he could want, an eight-track stereo; it's "the American Dream, man." But Priest is restless - will he escape? Will he stick it to The Man? Viewers who simply bump into the film on a lark might miss out on the spark that made this film sing in its era because, when gauged against slick and contemporary fare, Super Fly can come across nowadays as dated and slow. When brought into its proper context as a seminal blaxploitation film, however, the simple visual grammar and subtext of Super Fly reveal a movie whose medium itself was the message. While its distribution by Warner Bros. was clearly made possible, in part, by the success of Shaft, this does not lessen the fact that Super Fly was otherwise a fully independent film that was put together by people working outside the studio system who wanted to tell a clear and yet unconventional story.
While Super Fly made its impressions on the street, it was not without a fight. Of course, even the word "blaxploitation" a clear amalgam of "black exploitation," will conjure debate, but many black actors (who were paid for their work on films and later found less work available) angrily condemn the NAACP and CORE for being the organizations that created the term, rather than the white media. With that in mind, (spoiler ahead) it is interesting to note that the NAACP, uneasy with a black protagonist that they felt reinforced negative stereotypes, asked Warner Bros. to have Priest die at the end of the film. But Gordon Parks Jr. (whose own life would be tragically cut short by a plane crash in Kenya) had something else in mind and he, in his own way, delivered a powerful message of hope to both the disenfranchised people working outside the margins of accepted norm along with the casual viewers of the day who were just happy to get a little countercultural fun.
The Warner Bros. dvd of Super Fly includes a documentary (One Last Deal: A Retrospective), a vintage featurette with Ron O'Neal on the making of Superfly, a brief audio bonus with comments by Curtis Mayfield, a theatrical trailer, and a look at the clothes featured in the film with costume designer Nate Adams titled Behind the Threads.
For more information about Super Fly, visit Warner Video. To order Super Fly, go to TCM Shopping.
by Pablo Kjolseth
Super Fly on DVD
Ron O'Neal (1937-2003) - Ron O'Neal (1937-2003)
O'Neal was born on September 1, 1937 in Utica, New York, but he grew up in Cleveland. After graduating high school in 1955, he joined the city's widely acclaimed Karamu House, an experimental interracial theatrical troupe. During his nine-year stint with the playhouse, he had roles in such varied productions as A Raisin in the Sun, A Streetcar Named Desire and Kiss Me Kate.
After moving to New York City in the mid-'60s, he taught acting classes in Harlem and performed in summer stock. He came to critical notice in the off-Broadway production of Charles Gordone's Pulitzer Prize-winning No Place to be Somebody where he earned an Obie Award (the off-Broadway Tony) for his work. The producers of Superfly saw him in that production and cast him in the film's lead role of "Youngblood Priest". The film was a box-office smash, and O'Neal, looking slick and ultra-stylish in his big fedora hat, leather boots, flowing scarf, and floor length trench coat, became a pop culture icon of the "blaxsploitation" genre overnight.
O'Neal would try his hand at directing when he took on the sequel Superfly T.N.T. (1973). Unfortunately, his lack of experience showed as the poorly directed film lacked its predecessor's wit and pace, and proved a resounding commercial flop. Sadly, O'Neal's fame (as well as the blaxsploitation genre itself), would inevitably fade, and by the decade's end, O'Neal would be co-starring in such B-films as When a Stranger Calls, and the Chuck Norris actioner A Force of One (both 1979).
His fortunes did brighten in the mid-'80s with television, earning semi-regular roles in two of the more popular shows of the day: The Equalizer (1985-89) and A Different World (1987-93). Better still, as scholars and film fans rediscovered his performance in Superfly, O'Neal gathered some movie work again. He was cast alongside fellow blaxsploitation stars Pam Grier, Fred Williamson, Jim Brown and Richard Roundtree in the genre's tribute film Original Gangstas (1996); the film was a modest hit, and O'Neal made the rounds in a few more urban action thrillers, most notably his final film On the Edge (2002), co-starring rap and televisions star, Ice-T. O'Neal is survived by his wife Audrey Pool O'Neal, and sister, Kathleen O'Neal.
by Michael T. Toole
Ron O'Neal (1937-2003) - Ron O'Neal (1937-2003)
I went along with that thing of yours about getting out cause I had nothing else. When I get out what am I gunna do? I don't know nothing else but dope, baby. Takin' it, sellin' it, bankrollin' so other small time pusher. Ya know, you've got this fantasy in your head about gettin outta the life and setting that other world on its ear. What the F*CK are you gunna do except hustle? Besides pimpin'? And you really ain't got the stomach for that. Now man I ain't puttin you down. If it wasn't for you I probably wouldn't be here, I'd be O.D'ed some place. I'm just trying to make it real, baby like it is. I mean, maybe this is what you're supposed to do, maybe this is what you're growing to. Just think about it, don't throw it out, just, just think about it.- Eddie
Don't argue with me man, I'm trying to give you a chance. Now, you don't get me my money TONIGHT, I'm gunna put that young girl of yours out on whore's row.- Youngblood Priest
Listen Priest, that's my wife you're talking about man/- Fat Freddie
So what? Now somebody's gunna work tonight, Freddy. You really shouldnta fucked with my money, Freddy.- Youngblood Priest
Listen Priest, that's my wife you're talking about man.- Fat Freddie
You're gunna give all this up? Eight Track Stereo, color T.V. in every room, and can snort a half a piece of dope everyday?! That's the American Dream, ni**a!- Eddie
Look, I know it's a rotten game, but it's the only one The Man left us to play.- Eddie
Dig it, dope peddler. We're out here building a new nation for black people. It's time for you to start payin some dues, ni**a!- Militant
I ain't givin' you shit! I'll tell you what you do, you go get you a gun and all those black folks you keep doin' so much talkin' about get guns, and come back ready to go down, then I'll be right down front killin' whitey. But until you can do that, you go sing your marching songs some place else. Now we're through talkin'.- Youngblood Priest
The Eldorado Cadillac driven by Priest was owned by KC, the pimp who makes an appearance in the nightclub scene. The deal was that KC would get a part in the movie (in the opening credit it says "and introducing: KC") in exchange for the use of his car.
Some contemporary and modern sources list the film's title as Superfly, although the opening title card and copyright records list it as two words. According to some reviews of the film, the term "super fly" was slang for high-quality cocaine, while other reviews stated that it meant the pusher himself, or meant a superlative adjective that could be applied to anything. The first name of actress and former model Sheila Frazier, who made her debut in Super Fly, is spelled "Sheila" in the opening cast credits and "Shiela" in the ending credits. Producer Sig Shore, who plays "Deputy Commissioner Reardon," is billed in the cast credits as Mike Richards. In the middle of the film, a sequence of still photographs, taken by director Gordon Parks, Jr., illustrates how the thirty kilos of cocaine purchased by "Youngblood Priest" and "Eddie" is prepared, distributed and used.
Although a September 1971 Hollywood Reporter article listed Shore's company Plaza Productions as the film's intended production company, Superfly, Ltd. is listed onscreen and by copyright materials. The article also reported that the distribution arm of Shore's company, Plaza Pictures, would distribute Super Fly, but in mid-April 1972, Variety reported that neither Plaza company would be involved with the film. According to a September 17, 1972 New York Times article, the project was initially brought to Shore by first-time screenplay writer Philip Fenty after Fenty and actor Ron O'Neal, a longtime friend, had worked together to develop the story.
As reported by Filmfacts, as well as other contemporary news items and reviews, Super Fly was "the first black-oriented film to be financed entirely by blacks (in this case, a group of businessmen from the Harlem community) as well as the first to use an all-black and/or Puerto Rican technical crew." In mid-April 1972, Variety noted that, because of the black-oriented nature of the screenplay, Fenty and Parks, Jr. directly approached "the Harlem community for financial backing," which they obtained from a consortium of "businessmen, lawyers, dentists et al." The film's pressbook adds that the consortium of eighteen investors included "pimps, madams and drug dealers." In a September 1972 Variety article, Parks, Jr. specifically thanked his father, director Gordon Parks, Sr., and two black dentists, Ed Allen and Connie [Cornelius] Jenkins, for financing the production.
As noted in reviews, the picture was shot completely in New York City, and mostly in Harlem. In mid-April 1972, Variety reported that the film's low-key, successful location shooting in Harlem was due to its being "a non-union effort, thus the lack of production publicity and ease of using all-black technicians." The article added that after raising the required funds, the filmmakers agreed to their backers' request that "as many blacks as possible [be employed] in front and behind the camera," although the financiers agreed to allow white producer Shore oversee the project. The picture reportedly cost less than $500,000 to make and was acquired for distribution by Warner Bros. after its completion. According to modern sources, K. C., who played a pimp in the film, was a pimp in real life and owned the car driven by Priest. K. C.'s only other motion picture appearance was in the 1972 United Artists release Across 110th Street, which was also filmed on location in New York City.
After Super Fly's release, Filmfacts reported that the picture "turned out to be the most commercially successful black film to date-as well as the most controversial." Reviews of the picture were mixed, with some critics praising its authenticity and others decrying it as exploitive and poorly made. Time's reviewer, Jay Cocks, irritated by the picture's stereotypes and lack of technical proficiency, declared: "What makes a crummy little movie like Super Fly worth getting angry about is the implication behind it: that movies made for black audiences have to be, or can easily be, so casually and contemptuously awful." The Hollywood Reporter critic, on the other hand, praised the film as one of "remarkable power" and "a revelation, technically," that realistically captured the "struggle confronting those ghetto denizens who refuse to accept the life to which they have been consigned."
Among the film's many critics was Junius Griffin, the then-president of the Hollywood branch of the NAACP. Griffin, before he resigned his post in August 1972, demanded that Warner Bros. recall prints of the film from distribution and reshoot the ending so that Priest would be killed or otherwise punished for his drug usage and dealing. The National Catholic Office gave the film a "C," or condemned, rating, stating: "This kind of black liberation serves only to deceive the brothers and play upon the fears of black audiences." Many African-American groups and critics targeted the film, asserting that it glorified drug usage, violence, obtaining wealth through crime and sexual stereotypes about black men. One of the groups formed specifically to fight the film and other "similar exploitations films," according to a September 1972 Variety article, called itself Blacks Against Narcotics. The new group charged that Super Fly was "super-genocide" and that it was "the latest Hollywood game being run on black people." A January 28, 1973 Los Angeles Times article, which called the group BANG (Blacks Against Narcotics and Genocide), reported that it had picketed the movie and O'Neal, when he made personal appearances in Washington, D.C. to support the movie, but its efforts "had little apparent impact."
Outcry against the film prompted several groups in Los Angeles, notably the Coalition Against Blaxploitation (CAB) and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), to assert that a separate ratings and review board for black films should be set up and overseen by CORE, according to the January 1973 Los Angeles Times article. Roy Innis, the leader of CORE, also proposed that a black review board should "pre-edit" African-American-oriented films before they were theatrically released and that profits from the pictures be turned over to black-dominated communities to advance educational opportunities. Although this plan was much discussed throughout the mid-1970s, it was not implemented.
O'Neal, Shore and Parks, Jr. vehemently defended the film many times, with O'Neal, in an October 1972 LAHExam interview, pointing out that the picture presented "a true slice of Harlem life" and that Priest triumphs at the end by using his wits, not just physical force. In the September 1972 New York Times interview, O'Neal also defended the film by stating that cocaine was not a major drug problem among African Americans, and that not only was it not addictive, it had never caused an overdose. His position was opposed by numerous physicians and medical groups, who also spoke out against the film, according to Filmfacts.
In the January 1973 Los Angeles Times article, Parks, Jr. defended the film by asserting that black audiences, critics and filmgoers needed to support black artists while they attempted to break into the white-dominated motion picture industry, even if their initial efforts were not completely acceptable to all audiences. Parks, Jr. added that he and other black directors wanted to become "a Fellini or a Bergman. But we can't do these things right away. There's a learning process. Remember, blacks just got into films." The article supported his viewpoint, asserting: "Since mid-1970, at least 51 films about blacks have been released. Those released in the previous decade could probably be counted on one hand."
According to an October 1972 Los Angeles Times article, Variety had reported that by September 1972, Super Fly was third behind The Godfather and Play It Again, Sam ( for both) in the list of top-grossing films of 1972. In commenting on the success of Super Fly at the box office, a January 1973 Daily Variety article reported that investors Allen and Jenkins had sold their 22 ½ percent interest in the film "profitably," and that the "principals" involved in the production were "getting handsome payoffs." According to a March 12, 1973 New York Times article, the picture had grossed $20 million in seven months, and modern sources added that despite the film's controversial nature, it went on to gross more than $30 million by 2007.
Additionally, according to the January 1973 Daily Variety report, Curtis Mayfield, the composer of the film's score and hit songs, was estimated to be receiving "about $5,000,000 from performance and royalties" from the more than 2,000,000 albums and singles sold to that point. Mayfield, who made his film scoring debut with Super Fly, received a Grammy nomination for the film's soundtrack.
In January 1973, trade papers reported that although it previously had been announced as under consideration as a nominee, Mayfield's song "Freddie's Dead" had been ruled ineligible for entry in the Best Original Song category because it appeared in the film only as an instrumental. [The soundtrack album did feature the lyrics written for the song by Mayfield.] After the announcement, Warner Bros. issued an apology for its erroneous submission of the song for consideration. Controversy continued to swirl around the Academy's decision to exclude the song, with the executive committee of the music branch convening to discuss the song's ineligibility. According to a February 5, 1973 Daily Variety article, the meeting was held "because of the emotions involved," and the song's exclusion was upheld.
On February 23, 1973, Daily Variety related that Mayfield had filed a letter of complaint with the Academy over its method of selecting nominees. The article noted that Mayfield was not qualified for a nomination for Best Dramatic Score because "five songs needed to be submitted, and Warners only submitted three." Although the article stated that Mayfield's manager was contemplating filing suit against the Academy, the action was not taken. It was also noted that Mayfield had accused the Academy of a racial bias, although he was declining to file suit because the title song from Super Fly had been considered for the Oscar balloting.
Another controversy surrounding Mayfield's score for Super Fly arose from the role of arranger Johnny Pate, who receives onscreen credit as "music conducted by." As reported by a September 1972 Los Angeles Times article, Pate, with whom Mayfield had worked several times before the film's soundtrack, claimed that Mayfield had "merely dictated ideas," while it was Pate who did the actual "arranging, scoring, voicing, or orchestrating." Mayfield disputed Pate's statements that he was unacknowledged, noting that Pate did receive adequate credit for his contributions on the Super Fly soundtrack liner notes.
The picture marked the first feature film directed by Gordon Parks, Jr. (1934-1979), the son of Gordon Parks, Sr., who directed the 1971 picture Shaft, one of the first major blaxploitation films. [According to contemporary sources, O'Neal, the star of Super Fly, had been considered to star in Shaft but was deemed too light-skinned for the role.] Like his father, Parks, Jr. was also a well-known still photographer. The unit publicist on the film, David Parks, was Parks, Jr.'s brother. Parks, Jr. would make only three more films before his death in 1979 in an airplane crash. In addition, the picture marked the first screenplay written by Philip Fenty.
Super Fly also marked the first effort as a motion picture producer for Shore (1919-2006), who went on to produce the two sequels to Super Fly. The first, Super Fly T.N.T., was released in 1973 and was directed by and starred O'Neal, in addition to Frazier, who reprised her role as "Georgia." Shore also directed the second sequel, The Return of Superfly, which was released in 1990 and starred Nathan Purdee as Priest.
Released in United States Summer August 4, 1972
Re-released in United States June 30, 1995
Released in United States 1995
Released in United States 1996
Released in United States 1998
Shown at Brisbane International Film Festival July 30 - August 9, 1998.
Formerly distributed by Warner Bros.
Released in United States Summer August 4, 1972
Re-released in United States June 30, 1995
Released in United States 1995 (Shown in New York City (Film Forum) as part of program "Blaxploitation, Baby!" June 23 - August 10, 1995.)
Released in United States 1996 (Shown in New York City (Film Forum) as part of program "Out of the Seventies: Hollywood's New Wave 1969-1975" May 31 - July 25, 1996.)
Released in United States 1998 (Shown at Brisbane International Film Festival July 30 - August 9, 1998.)