Super Fly (1972) – Analysis

As opposed to what you may believe, Super Fly has an enormous amount of emotional tone and political nuance. When normally discussed, moviegoers seem to focus on the cars, clothes, and drugs depicted within the film, but the film has much more to offer than the decorative full-length jackets that lead star Ron O’Neal is depicted in. Super Fly, in a way, depicts the tragedies and despair that hold a person inside a societal prison, where their criminal initiatives are just another form of enslavement. If these qualities were lost in blaxploitation films made down the line, that’s not at fault of this film. Gordon Parks Jr., son of Gordon Parks, who directed Shaft a year prior, may put on a charade that this movie is donning a colorful and pleasurable story, but the truth is, the story that we follow is much more grief-stricken. Just like the soundtrack, composed by legendary soul singer Curtis Mayfield, Super Fly and “Pusherman” share one thing in common, being that “there is no happiness”.

The same chord as “Pusherman” is struck with our lead, Priest, a New York City cocaine dealer with a lot on his shoulders and a lot in his pockets. While not necessarily guilt, the thing on our main character’s mind is what money can’t buy him, and that’s his independence and freedom from the drug trade.  He even speaks to someone, in one of the films many reflective dialogues, where he states he just “wants to be free”. Our character is driven by relentless frustration, and even though he has many sexual feats and masculine overtones, he seems to be distressed and uses the drugs he sells in order to garner confidence from within. The movie begins with Priest running down some people who have mugged him, and sets the stage for the rest of the film. Despite all his accomplishments and material success, whether moral or not, Priest is a man struggling to live in a world he is seemingly thriving in.

When looking at the actual techniques and shots of the film Super Fly, scenes can vary from the outright shoddy and amateur to exciting and nerve-wracking. With that in mind, there are some pitfalls to the film, but they don’t usually last long enough to draw away from the overall film. A particular instance of this, is the cringe worthy bathtub sex scene, which thankfully and most likely purposefully, cuts to a violent street brawl. The movie’s piece de resistance would be the still-photo montage in which we see the process that the cocaine in the city goes through. From purchasing to packaging to sale, we see the drugs move throughout the ghetto of the city, while also making it’s way to the polar opposite side of town filled with upper-class clientele, who seem to be Priest’s main customer base.

Though the film, at times, seems to depict this life as deadly and decrepit, Super Fly does not lose it’s footing and doesn’t exactly represent a rigorous tale of morality and fatality. The movie transcends such matters, for the events that occur in the film are not just the problems of our main protagonist, but also overarching problems for society, specifically those systematically oppressed, at large. It’s a rotten game, but it’s the only one that man has left them to play. Nonetheless, Priest still attempts to complexly craft an exit out of the business, and though this plan involves selling copious amounts of drugs to do so, I think it contributes to the message we have been seeing throughout the film. This is an environment conducive to crime, and the only way out is to play along. Our protagonist’s decision to leave this life is world shattering and in doing so makes Super Fly a battle cry for rebelliousness and insubordination. The fact that the movie is entertaining and visually entertaining is just a plus.

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