After I shared my post on New Line’s reboot of “Shaft,” but one with more comedic tones, bringing on “Black-ish” creator Kenya Barris to pen the script, I received several messages asking if I would get David F. Walker’s reaction to the news. I didn’t initially immediately even think of it, but of course, now it’s only logical.
Walker has been working on comics for years, but only recently started to get attention thanks to his critically acclaimed run writing “Shaft” for Dynamite Comics. He is also a journalist, a filmmaker, an educator, author, and more. His publication BadAzz MoFo became internationally known as an indispensable resource for black films of the 1970’s, and he is also co-author of the book “Reflections on Blaxploitation: Actors and Directors Speak.”
So, suffice it to say that he knows his 1970’s cinema – specifically black films of the 1970’s.
Dynamite Entertainment released the premiere issue of “Shaft” by David Walker and Bilquis Evely late last year, showcasing a more rough-and-tumble version of the character that originated in Ernest Tidyman’s series of novels. Walker also wrote this year’s “Shaft’s Revenge,” which is the first official Shaft novel authorized by Tidyman’s estate since the 1970s.
This afternoon, just as I was about to contact David via Facebook, I was alerted to the fact that he’d already written an “open letter” to New Line regarding its proposed comedic reboot of “Shaft,” which he published on his BadAzz MoFo website today.
So for those of you who’ve been anticipating a response from him, you have one now.
Here’s part of it:
“Numerous people have reached out to me about my thoughts on the new Shaft movie, which New Line Cinema recently announced would be more comedic in tone. Here are my thoughts…
Dear New Line Cinema (and producer John Davis),
Let me start by saying that I never expected anyone to get in touch with me about the new Shaft movie. Likewise, I don’t have any interest in getting involved with anyone who doesn’t understand or respect Ernest Tidyman’s character, so even if anyone involved in the new movie got in touch with me, it probably wouldn’t go well. As it is, with the recent announcement that the creator of Black-ish has been hired, and that a comedic approach is going to be taken, it is clear to me that New Line is more interested in shitting the bed, than making a good Shaft movie.
When I first reached out the Chris Clark-Tidyman, the widow of Shaft creator Ernest Tidyman, it was because I wanted to see a character that I grew up with, translated into the world of comics. It was important to me to do justice to Tidyman’s creation, and to the character itself. At the risk of bragging, I did just that. I dropped the fuckin’ mic with the award-winning Shaft comic book, and with all humility, I did a pretty solid job on the novel Shaft’s Revenge—the first Shaft novel since Tidyman’s The Last Shaft, published back in 1975. All of this is my way of saying that I care about the character, I understand the character, and as anyone who has read my contribution to the legacy of character can tell you, I got that shit right. So, please, listen to me when I say, “Don’t make this a comedy. It will suck. It won’t make money. And in doing so, it will ruin the chances of there ever being a decent Shaft movie in the remainder of my lifetime.”
There are several valid reasons to back up the fact that taking the comedic approach is wrong. Let’s start with the reason that means the most in Hollywood—money. While comedies do well, the sort of comedy you’re likely to make does not have a good track record. Low Down Dirty Shame (1994) made $24 million, Undercover Brother (2002) made $39 million, and Bait (2000) made $15 million. There are, of course, exceptions, like the Bad Boys movies, which made just under $400 million collectively, but c’mon…can you really conjure the magic of Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, and hope for that kind of hit? I don’t think so.
At best, you’ll likely put out a film like Black Dynamite, a movie that has already done what you’re setting out to do. Black Dynamite, despite its cult status, and the animated show that I love—which again, has already done what you want to do—earned less than a million dollars at the box office. Let that sink in—less than a million dollars. By comparison, The Equalizer earned over $190 million globally, and it was a serious action film, with a black man in the lead role (which is what Shaft needs to be).
You can read the rest of the letter here.
It’s worth noting that Tidyman wasn’t too high on the original “Shaft” movie (1971) directed by Gordon Parks, telling NPR commentator and author Jimi Izrael, who wrote his grad school thesis on “Shaft,” that he felt the character had been too politicized, stating that he’d “written Shaft as a detective novel, not a Black power tome.”
So, essentially, the “Shaft” we know and love was really a creation of Gordon Parks, based on Tidyman’s novels.
Quite frankly, I could so without a reboot of “Shaft,” whether it’s “comedic” or not. Several novels by Walter Mosley have been optioned over the years, whether for TV or film adaptation consideration, but nothing has come from any of them. I’d much rather see something fresher than another “Shaft” remake. Give us some more Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins, or how about a Leonid McGill franchise, or even Fearless Jones, whether as hardboiled detective TV series or feature films.
I do wonder who the audience for this new “Shaft” reboot will be, and how well the studio really expects it to do.