Richard Roundtree, who instantly made a name for himself as private detective John Shaft in "Shaft," the 1971 action film directed by Gordon Parks, has passed away from pancreatic cancer. He was 81.
It is hard to overstate the importance of "Shaft" when it came out. The film launched the era of Blaxploitation films, vividly illustrating how traditional Hollywood had ignored a considerable and lucrative marketplace. And Roundtree played a black protagonist who was unapologetically not a victim, demonstrating a confident sex appeal that served him well in a career that lasted another 50 years.
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In addition to a pair of sequels that came out in the seventies, there were two more recent versions of "Shaft" - one in 2000 and another in 2019 - in which Samuel L. Jackson played the title character. In both, Roundtree played the original John Shaft - in the first, he was Jackson's uncle, and in the second, inexplicably, he was his father. But in both, Roundtree was the coolest cat onscreen.
One might say, a bad mother (shut your mouth). Can you dig it?