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'Black Dynamite' inspired by '70s low-budget action, says actor-writer

Moira Macdonald
The Seattle Times (MCT)

SEATTLE — "Black Dynamite," the blaxploitation spoof now arriving in theaters, has a few mistakes in it — and the filmmakers left them in, on purpose.

"We had that type of movie," said star and co-writer Michael Jai White, laughing. For example, watch closely during the shootout outside Roscoe's Chili and Donuts. "You notice the guy (driving) stops the car and starts to shoot, and the car starts rolling again because he didn't put it fully in park, so he quickly applied the parking brake and went back to shooting."

And then there's the visible boom mikes, and the guy who recites the stage directions along with his lines ... all part of the authenticity, said White, in an interview at the Seattle International Film Festival last summer. "Sometimes in blaxploitation movies, you only had one take, maybe two. If there was a mistake, you had to roll with it."

Inspired by the '70s movement of low-budget action films starring black actors and aimed at urban black audiences, the film is the tale of ultra badass Black Dynamite (yes, that's his name, and he's got theme music too), defender of smack-addicted orphans, romancer of women and avenger of his murdered brother. It's already a hit with audiences: At SIFF, it won the Golden Space Needle for best film. White, an actor ("Spawn," "Kill Bill," the HBO special "Tyson") and martial artist, said he first got the idea for the screenplay while listening to James Brown's "Super Bad." "I was laughing, picturing this whole crazy caper," he said.

"Being that I grew up watching films like this, I thought it'd be an interesting genre to set the film in," he said. "I love the '70s, even the bad movies I like, because it's still kind of reflective of a very interesting time. People were very political, people found out who they were, you know?"

Now, in a climate where '70s movies are frequently being remade, he thought it would be "really funny to hearken back to that time — kind of a snub of political correctness."

White wrote the screenplay with Byron Minns and director Scott Sanders, borrowing conventions from a number of movies. Gordon Parks Jr.'s blaxploitation film "Three the Hard Way" was a big influence, he said, but they felt free to lampoon other kinds of movies as well — "it's poking fun at moviemaking."

He planned from the beginning to play the lead role himself. "It's a very delicate tone," he said, "to keep that reality and still the absurdity. It's easy to go over, easy to be slapstick and cutesy."

He enjoys watching audiences during the film, to see what makes them laugh. "Certain audiences will get one thing and not another," he said. "Some things are just set up that way. The beauty is having a certain segment of the audience laughing and the others not get it and wonder what they missed, so they want to look again.

"I have some very obscure references throughout this movie. Some people get them, some people don't. Very much like 'The Simpsons,' or even back in the day with 'Bugs Bunny.' An adult can watch it and see that Bugs Bunny is doing Edward G. Robinson, but the kids don't know."

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