chapter  4
22 Pages

The Measure of Men: Legacies of Poitier’s A Piece of the Action: Ian Gregory Strachan

ByIAN GREGORY STRACHAN

Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971), Shaft (1971) and Super Fly (1972) introduced to the American screen a violent, sexually potent, unrepentant black action hero, refl ective of the mood of many in black America in the early 1970s, an era birthed by the turbulence of the Medgar Evers, John

and Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X assassinations; urban riots and the Black Power movement. These heroes were a stark contrast to the integrationist saints Sidney Poitier had perfected by the year he starred in three hit fi lms, 1967: To Sir, with Love; Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner; and In the Heat of the Night. The Poitier icon had lost its currency in the eyes of many by the end of the 1960s, and after the success of Baadasssss, Super Fly and Shaft, Hollywood sought to capitalize on the black fi lmgoing market by generating a slew of blaxploitation fi lms featuring kick-ass heroes and heroines who stuck it to the Man and played by their own rules. After a hiatus during which he sought to recover from the sting of criticism that he was little more than a “showcase nigger,”1 Poitier returned to fi lm as a producer/director and sought to make commercially successful fi lms that would appeal to urban black audiences and be more refl ective of the black experience than either the Hollywood race fi lms of the 1950s and 1960s had been or blaxploitation was being. His trilogy of buddy fi lms with Bill Cosby, Uptown Saturday Night (1974), Let’s Do It Again (1975) and A Piece of the Action (1977), were part of his response to fi lms about what he calls in his 1980 autobiography This Life, “macho street dudes beating up on redneck racists and gangster crooks in the ‘get whitey’ formula.”2 This chapter focuses on the fi nal installment of the trilogy, the peculiar hybrid A Piece of the Action.