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Black Dynamite Panel Discussion with Actor/Writer Michael Jai White and Producer Scott Sanders at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival

Written by William S. Gooch

Opposite Photo: Michael Jai White
Photo Credit Ernie Green

Question: What sparked your interest in doing this film?

Michael Jai White: I was in Bulgaria shooting a movie called Undisputed and I was listening to my iPod and on comes James Brown’s “Super Bad,” and then I got this idea for this character. I got back to the States and fleshed out the character, rented some clothing that was reminiscent of urban fashion from the 1970s, shot some pictures and contacted Scott. We had wanted to work together for so many years, and when I told him about the project his eyes kind of lit up and he jumped on board.

Question: Did you have any fear at all with tackling the blaxploitation genre and all the negative connotations that goes with that genre?

Michael Jai White: Not at all. The movies that started that whole genre were quite powerful and the whole blaxploitation moniker came later. That genre was the first time we had strong representation where there were strong black characters. As a young man I was impressed by the black alpha-male characters portrayed by Jim Brown, Fred Williamson, and Jim Kelly, and those characters were a source of pride for the African American community.

Question: Was there ever any concern that some of the cultural references from the 1970s would be lost on younger audiences?


Scott Sanders
Photo Credit Ernie Green

Scott Sanders: Younger people today like things that have an extreme taste. Young folks might look at Black Dynamite they way they look at Borat or another type of comedy.

Michael Jai White: Also, today’s audiences are very sophisticated. One of the things we had to do to maintain the look and feel of that genre is we couldn’t shoot Black Dynamite with the same pacing you see in films today. Our incident level in current movies is pretty accelerated compared to movies of that time.

Question: Could you talk a little about casting for Black Dynamite?

Scott Sanders: I lot of the actors we used were friends of Michael, and we had a great casting director, Rick Montgomery, who helped a lot with the casting process. We tried to have a range of acting styles, as well.


Black Dynamite

Question: In Black Dynamite every stance or swagger is a pose, almost like choreography, which is very reminiscent of that genre. Were you conscious of that or did it happen organically?

Michael Jai White: A lot of Black Dynamiteis Jim Brown, who is a hero of mine. He was the first black action movie star. We’ve known each other for over ten years and in some ways he is a surrogate father to me. Jim Brown knows how to play the hard, strong tough guy well; however, when he was asked to be warm and fuzzy in movies, it didn’t really come off that well.

Scott Sanders: That is also one of my favorite dynamics in Black Dynamite. If you notice that when the lead character has to go against grain and be tender, it looks sappy and doesn’t come off well.

Question: You also put a lot of rhyming in Black Dynamite. Was talking in rhyme a part of the blaxploitation genre?

Michael Jai White: There was so much rhyming in the 70s. It was a part of the black vernacular, so to speak.

Question: Would you talk about the martial arts in Black Dynamite?

Michael Jai White: I have been involved in martial arts since I was eight years old. The choreography style of martial arts you see in Black Dynamite is very 70s. One of the styles of martial arts I have a black belt in is called shotokan, and that style of karate was very popular in blaxploitation films. Rob Ewing and myself choreographed the fights in Black Dynamite.

Question: Would you talk about the music?

Scott Sanders: The original music came from this young musician, Adrian Young, who loves 1970s instrumentation. Levan Davis from House of Payne sings the lead in most the songs in Black Dynamite. His voice is kind of reminiscent of Curtis Mayfield and Willie Hutch. His voice is the key to some of the crazy songs like “Jimmy’s Dead,” that has all this wailing.

Question: Could you talk about Salli Richardson who plays this type of Pam Grier character?

Michael Jai White: She was so wonderful to work with. So much of the comedy wouldn’t have worked without her presence. She was dead on perfect.

Scott Sanders: She is the best straight woman, ever.

Question: You have some great comedians in Black Dynamite. Did they ever go off script, and how did you get Arsenio Hall to agree to do the movie?

Michael Jai White: When we approached Arsenio, he informed us that if there was a Captain Kangaroo pimp character in the movie, he was in, and the rest is history. But to answer your first question, over 90 percent of the film scripted, but there is some improv.

Question: Why did you decide to go for a deadpan humor approach instead of making Black Dynamitea spoof of the blaxploitation genre?

Scott Sanders: We went for the deadpan approach because it makes the movie more sustainable. Sometimes, when there is too much spoof, the movie ends up just being a set of gags.

Question: What are you working on next?

Michael Jai White: We have a couple of projects in the works.

Scott Sanders: There is the project that Michael and I were going to work on in Brazil before we got started on Black Dynamite. We will also be working on the comedy Capital Punishment.

Michael Jai White: And of course, the sequel to Black Dynamite.


 

 

 



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