Black Dynamite's Michael Jai White and Scott Sanders: The Movieline Interview
After first making its audience-pleasing reputation in the Midnight section of this year's Sundance Film Festival, the blaxploitation send-up Black Dynamite concludes its nine-month fest rounds this week when it finally arrives in theaters. The sooner, the better: The outrageous story of nunchuck-swinging, kung-fu practicing, panty-wetting bad-ass (the brilliant Michael Jai White, who also co-wrote and produced) avenging his brother's death at the hands of "The Man," Dynamite is also a painstakingly precise stylistic exercise led by director Scott Sanders. It's simultaneously among the season's most entertaining and ambitious films; Movieline caught up with White and Sanders to discuss Dynamite's influences, its goals, and their hero's other plans for world conquest.
You guys have been on the road with this for nine months since Sundance. How are you holding up?
MJW: Cool! We've been having a ball. Going overseas... [Gestures to Sanders] This cat went to Germany, to Prague, where we got a standing ovation. We went to Deauville. It's just been amazing how we've been received overseas. Rio De Janiero.
How do overseas audiences respond to the blaxploitation genre specifically?
SS: I guess that was the surprise. There's a universal element to it. In the Czech Republic, for instance, they didn't have any blaxploitation movies. It was all Communist at the time. What they really respond to is the whole bad-ass nature o it. They like seeing Black Dynamite, the bad-ass, stomp through the movie. They're just along for the ride. The historical context of it is neither here nor there to them, which is great. The fact that we could hit on a universal element of it is just really cool. Black Dynamite makes it fun. It all started with a photo Mike took, which is what we used for the poster. It's like the nunchucks are just 10 percent a little too bad-ass. You've already got the gun. That 10 percent extra is where a lot of the fun comes from.
Michael, it's great to see you in a comedy. Had you been seeking one, and did it ultimately just come down to having to write one if you were going to be able to star in one?
MJW: It's just an idea that I wrote and fleshed out. Just by nature I think in comedy. I think in sketches and what have you. In every drama or action movie I've been in, I have to make a concerted effort not to turn it into a comedy. Every shot, before action is called and after cut is called, I'm usually in some goofy head space. It feels natural to me. But I got Blood and Bone made before this one, and that had nothing to do with comedy. I just want to do things that inspire me. I have some comedy scripts, even some romantic comedies that I plan on getting done. This one's part of a chess game for me that'll open more doors to do more stuff.
This definitely is a specific kind of comedy, though I'm not sure which. It is parody? Satire? Homage?
SS: That sounds about right. It's a parody-homage. Luckily, because of the genre, we didn't have to strain for the jokes. The scenes from the movie are actually scenes that are in blaxploitation movies. The pimp scene -- the pimp council -- is a serious scene in Willie Dynamite. The fact that that's a serious scene, I mean... If you just say "pimp council," it's funny. All we have to do is lightly riff on it, and it's funny. I think of Tina Fey as Sarah Palin. She just says what Sarah Palin says, and it's funny. If you can just nail it so it feels accurate. The comedy is there. We were just lucky it was such a rich genre that took itself so seriously.
MJW: If you just make somebody look at it through another lens, they see all the funny parts. You just lay a comedy lens over something. Like I do editing sometimes, and maybe I shouldn't say this, but: You know that movie Miami Vice? With Jamie Foxx? I edited in laugh tracks. I'm telling you: If you have some friends watch it with laugh tracks, it's funny as hell. And they swore I re-edited it, but I didn't. I just stuck in laugh tracks in some different places, and you're doubled over. If you look at a movie with that veil -- with that comedy lens -- you see how funny it is. It's very similar with blaxploitation. We knew very early on that the audience was going to start fine tuning its attention to that detail.
That said, a lot of those serious blaxploitation films that influenced you are genuinely good. How do you strike the balance between paying respects and sending them up?
SS: Absolutely. And this is influenced by all of them. The Mack is a great movie; they're achieving exactly what they wanted to achieve. There's stuff in there that's just cold-blooded, and that's how it's received when you're watching it. So there's lots of elements of that that we [wanted] to put in this movie. An avenging disco godfather whose nephew's on drugs? And then he goes [adopts gravelly voice] "Where's Bucky, and what has he had?" And he's totally serious? It's funny!
MJW: We're celebrating the entire genre. The good, the bad, the ridiculous -- the whole thing.
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