Presented in conjunction with an exhibition of photographs by director Gordon Parks, the original Shaft (1971) stars Richard Roundtree as the title hero, whose all-around badass appeal is enhanced by his very own theme music written by Isaac Hayes. Like Superfly, Parks’ film works best when it utilizes the gloriously orchestrated soundtrack, which snagged a Grammy and an Academy Award. And appropriately so, since Parks’ son, Gordon Jr., filmed Superfly a year after his dad blew the gate wide open for blaxploitation cinema in mainstream theaters.
“Bare Witness: Photographs by Gordon Parks,” the exhibition currently running at the Museum, is a collection of Parks’ work as a fashion and documentary photographer from 1948 to 1972. Stark images of black urban life in the United States is mixed with striking shots of notable historical figures like Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali and Duke Ellington. Parks was an interesting character, existing in several different artistic fields—he founded Essence magazine, too—and while Shaft is an entertaining film not only because it comes across as dated, the images in “Bare Witness” are where his craft really shines.