From its humble beginnings to the cult mini-phenomenon it’s become, the trajectory of “Black Dynamite” as an intellectual property is hardly what anyone could’ve predicted. What started as a two minute passion project trailer shot on studio lots by actors Michael Jai White and Byron Minns and director Scott Sanders eventually grew into an 80 minute thesis on the art of blaxploitation filmmaking that both celebrated and lampooned the subgenre.
It probably would’ve been just as funny if Jai White, Minns, Sanders, and company merely cracked jokes at the genre’s expense, but a genuine understanding and awareness of the mechanics (read: limitations) of exploitation filmmaking in general and the hyperbolic liberatory myth-making of figures like Sweet Sweetback and Foxy Brown in particular gave “Black Dynamite” a comedic edge that pushed its reference-laden humor and non-stop action over the top; boom mics invade shots, actors read notes off of cue cards and are outright replaced mid-scene. It did everything it could to reinforce the fact that Jai White, Minns, and company were playing bad actors who were playing their respective characters and was the blaxploitation answer to Mel Brooks parodies like “Blazing Saddles” or “Space Balls.”
Jai White starred as the titular Dynamite, a pimp/ex-CIA agent who’s being recruited by The Man to help deal with a drug problem that’s sweeping the nation (but mostly The Black Community) and is semi-responsible for the death of his younger brother Jimmy. With the help of the constantly rhyming Bull Horn (Minns), feisty friend Honey Bee (Kym Whitley), and wanna-be pimp snake in the grass Cream Corn (Tommy Davidson), Black Dynamite helps to clean up the streets of the community, the jungles of China, and even the halls of The White House. It’s a crazy movie.
A hit on the festival circuit when it debuted in theaters back in 2009, Carl Jones, writer and executive producer of the incendiary “Boondocks” adaptation for Adult Swim, saw potential for a series and pitched the idea to Williams Street. The decision to go animated allowed the property to cut loose and delve further into the field of parody: Muppet-like felt puppets brainwashing the youth, Michael Jackson as an alien baby from the planet Ma Ma Se Ma Ma Sa Ma Ma Coo Sa, Elvis Presley as a secret agent undermining the black community working under President Nixon, etc. The first season of the show firmly poked fun at culture of the 1970s in any way it could and was even more ridiculous and lively as a result, though in trade it did lose the meta vibe of the film in the process. Having the whole original cast in tow helped ease the pain that brought.
Alien Michael Jackson and Secret Agent Elvis have nothing on last night’s second season premiere, however. From the time the flashy new opening sequence got things started, I already knew I was in for a different kind of wild ride than before. One episode deep into its second season, “Black Dynamite” is showing no signs of slowing down or ceasing to push the envelope, with Woody Allen, Al Sharpton, Roots, and racism itself on the chopping block.
This first episode of the second season has the gang heading to the unveiling of a statue commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. going to the bathroom for equality by Sharpton (Godfrey), which leads to the premiere of Roots on television (“What’s your name, boy?” “LeVar…Burton…”) and The Black Community (as it’s so lovingly referred) freaking right the hell out about the injustices of slavery. Sharpton’s greed leads to his encouraging the BC to enslave their white neighbors, complete with auctions (“Two for $25), shackles, and forced cotton-picking. This leads to Woody Allen starting a Caucasian uprising of The Pink Panthers after having their “white self-confidence” wiped out by being enslaved for “a whole month.” This episode is probably going to piss a lot of people off come Monday morning, black and white.
The envelope hasn’t been pushed as much as it’s been scissor-kicked by Jim Kelly at this point, but Black Dynamite’s not as on board with the notion of white slavery as everyone else is. Bull Horn’s been deputized by Sharpton and Honey Bee has herself a white sex slave, but Dynamite realizes that reverse slavery is not the answer and things go back to the way they were before – discriminatory but hey, at least no one’s in chains anymore, right?
You can’t say that this isn’t an audacious take on the material, even by “Black Dynamite” standards. While the subtext has always been loaded with social commentary, it’s never been this pronounced before. Woody Allen and Al Sharpton are viewed with an equal amount of contempt and equally dressed down as greedy message-mongers who aren’t seeing the big picture that racial equality is what we should be striving for, not slavery or bigotry. This introspective outlook puts more weight behind the blaxploitation craziness the series is known for and it’s a good fit that bodes well for the rest of the season. That being said, it also looks like the series is finally taking time to expand, with supporting players like Honey Bee, Base Head, fan favorite pimp Chocolate Giddyup, and The Black Community itself getting a lot more time in the sun.
Much like its spiritual cousin “The Boondocks,” “Black Dynamite” has a lot on its mind and a devil may care comedic attitude that buffs the combination of blaxploitation action and laughs to a mirror sheen, the only difference being that Dynamite has a smile on its face while it’s slapping you upside the head with social commentary. Bring on the rest of the season!
Black Dynamite season 2 airs Saturdays at 10:30 p.m. on Adult Swim.