Will Smith Is No Fred Williamson

If it sounds absurd, it’s supposed to: screenwriter/actor/martial artist Michael Jai White blows up Black Dynamite.

Michael Jai White has always been one of those “that’s-that-one-guy-you-know-who-I’m-talking-about” actors. Despite a breakout 1995 role as Mike Tyson in the HBO biopic Tyson, and most recently a part in Tyler Perry’s 2007 Why Did I Get Married, Jai White’s face has always been more familiar than his name. But with the release of his latest, Black Dynamite, which hits theaters today, people will definitely remember his name, or at least the one he plays in the film.

Black Dynamite is a spot-on homage to the ‘70s blaxploitation era—a time when movies like Shaft, The Mack and Foxy Brown gave black actors work and black audiences pride. In Black Dynamite, Jai White (who co-wrote the screenplay) is “Black Dynamite,” a former CIA agent seeking revenge on The Man who not only murdered his younger brother, but deals heroin to the orphanage where Dynamite was raised, and floods the ghetto with a malt liquor called Anaconda.

If it sounds absurd, it’s supposed to. From the plot to the costumes, to Jai White’s major Afro, Black Dynamite aims to illuminate every single detail of blaxploitation. In an interview with The Root, Michael Jai White talks about why blaxploitation will never happen again, and why the term Black Hollywood is not only relevant—but still necessary.

The Root: What made you decide now was the time to release this project?

Michael Jai White: There are a lot of things about the ‘70s that were liberating. It was the first time we saw ourselves in heroic-type roles. We had alpha men and alpha women we don’t have today. In movies then, you could say anything—it was just unbridled. You saw true art.

TR: Can the blaxploitation movement be recreated?

MJW: No, I wish it were, but we don’t have any alpha male or female images nowadays. Back in the day, you had Jim Brown, Fred Williamson, Billy Dee Williams, it just doesn’t stop. In any white movie, there’s always a dominant white male who’s attractive, smart, gets the women and kicks ass. Well basically, [black people] have one character nowadays that does that and that’s Denzel Washington. And he doesn’t even really do action films.

TR: There’s Will Smith.

MJW: Back in the 1970s, you had your Charlie Bronsons, your Clint Eastwoods, your Steve McQueens, but then you had Bernie Casey, Phillip Michael Thomas, Calvin Lockhart, Jim Kelly. It was kind of on the even keel. I’d encourage people to try to compare Fred Williamson to anybody right now. You’re not going to compare Fred Williamson to Will Smith.