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Exclusive: Q&A with Black Dynamite’s Michael Jai White and Scott Sanders

Black Dynamite is a euphoric amen to blaxploitation and its low-budget pulp — in fact, the genre’s shortcomings and stereotypes go a long way in this hilarious parody. Michael Jai White plays the title’s baadasssss hero, toggling between deadpan and over-the-top modes with surprising ease. Black Dynamite is known far and wide for lady-killing one-liners and administering tough love to the Man via .44 Magnum and kung fu (nunchucks too, if push comes to smashmouth). He even struts to a chorus.

Naturally, there’s “kung fu treachery” everywhere. For one, some jive turkeys murdered his brother and, worse, the hood has been flooded with so much smack that even orphans need a fix. With his license to kill reinstated, Dynamite and a posse that includes prissy Cream Corn (Tommy Davidson in near-In Living Color form) and rhyming Bullhorn (co-writer Byron Minns) commence their vigilante-style antics — only to come upon a really nutty conspiracy that’s linked to Anaconda Malt Liquor, the only government-approved malt liquor and one that gives you “Oooooooooo.”

Director Scott Sanders reproduces the grainy, high-contrast look of his predecessors and mines their trademark discontinuities, reused bits of footage, and tremulous zooms for laughs. He also bottles that old-school flavor: the wham-bam fights, the slang-ridden dialogue, and, of course, the righteous, if-I-ruled-the-world attitude. Adrian Younge’s catchy wah-wah score provides more funk and energy, while there are amusing cameos at a pimp council by Arsenio Hall (as Tasty Freeze), R&B singer Brian McKnight (Sweet Meat), and Reno 911!’s Cedric Yarbrough (Chocolate Giddy-Up). Angelenos can look out for the “origins” of Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles too, herein known as Roscoe’s Chili and Donuts.

Last week, we sat down to talk with the director and star/writer about Black Dynamite and the perfect blaxploitation line-up.

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Flavorpill: How did you settle on the punchy name of Black Dynamite?

Michael Jai White: Well, at first, it was called Super Bad [after the James Brown hit]. But that was taken by a movie that didn’t…

Scott Sanders: That shall go nameless. [Laughs]

MJW: [Laughing] And then Scott came up with Black Dynamite. Actually, we were throwing some names around and when he said “Black Dynamite,” I was like “Uhh, let’s think further about it.” Then I thought about the scene when the mother, on her deathbed, calls her child Black Dynamite seriously. I thought that’s pretty damn funny and it made me know.

SS: I’m trying to think of the origin…there’s a trailer for Willie Dynamite and the guy goes “AND HE’S EXPLODED ON THE SCREEN LIKE BLACK DYNAMITE!” And I was like heyyy. Then I thought, “Isn’t there a movie called Black Dynamite?” I actually did a Google search.

MJW: And you didn’t use that sound byte?

SS: Nah. Well I tried to in our fake trailers.

FP: Speaking of which, the film looks like a long-lost print that’s been recently discovered. How were you able to capture that datedness so beautifully?

SS: We used older lenses. But the trick of it was the Super 16 color reversal. They use it for music videos a lot, but they don’t use it on feature films because it’s very unforgiving. Once you do it, that’s it. But it looks old. That’s the great thing about our producer Jon Steingart — most producers are way more cautious because they want options. He’s like, “You gotta do it.”

FP: So it’s just like one take?

SS: Well, let’s say you shoot something on color negative. You can manipulate it. This, the blacks get crushed. The colors are just so contrast-y. But it looks great. It was worth it. I’m really pleased.

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FP: There’s an exuberant tone to the film. What was the set like?

SS: It was fun, but with a big strain. Making it in 20 days [in Los Angeles] was difficult; it gave us challenges. And those challenges, I think, gave the film have a really good energy. We shot a movie like they shot blaxploitation movies.

FP: On the run you mean?

SS: Yeah, it was on the run. And [Michael] had to memorize tons of lines and kung fu choreography.

FP: What say you Black Dynamite?

MJW: Well, I was working with my friends, so it was kind of a dream come true. We had so much fun; it was almost a guilty pleasure. It’s been a joyous endeavor from the very start to the very finish.

FP: You used to have blaxploitation nights at your house. What’s the perfect triple bill?

MJW: Well, with those you’re encouraged to heckle the screen. So I tend to go for the campier ones. Disco Godfather because it’s the most ridiculous one. What is that one…

SS: How about Black Shampoo?

MJW: You know, the funniest part about that is the name.

SS: I mean it’s pretty raw in parts too. It’s weird. That’s a weird one.

MJW: I might play Trouble Man because Robert Hooks was one of the coolest people to ever play a lead. And I might do Coffy or Foxy Brown. That pimp man…

SS: King George.

MJW: Yeah…wait, is that the same one with [in a high-pitched voice], “WHATCHA GONNA DO WITH THE GUN MAMA?”

SS: No, that’s Sheba, Baby. [Laughs] We’re just riffing about a performance in Sheba, Baby. That guy does like an old-school, Rochester-type thing.

MJW: I mean, wow, he presents an extreme. [Laughs]

FP: How many blaxploitation movies do you think you watched in preparation?

SS: Uhh, probably too many. [Laughs] You get down to Black Sister’s Revenge and what’s the Brother Charles one called?

MJW: Welcome Home Brother Charles?

SS: That’s the one where this guy grows a gigantic penis and chokes white people with it. And it’s serious. It’s a serious movie. [Laughs]

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MJW: You remember Abar?

SS: Nope.

MJW: Abar — oh God, I gotta watch this again — was like this big buff brother who walking around like he was supposed to be some android and he was just killing white folks.

FP: Are these all on DVD now?

MJW: Yeah, I mean you can probably find Abar. [Editor's note: You can.]

SS: I want to show you Black Sister’s Revenge because that one is ridiculous.

FP: What are the ingredients for a great blaxploitation movie?

SS: The black paranoia thing is always a fun place to start. The more you take that element seriously, the more fun it can be. I think there’s a lot less of that now, there’s a lot less need for black people in our culture to have all these conspiracy theories. But I mean we have one about Liz Claiborne, Church’s Fried Chicken, whatever. But, you know, those crazy conspiracy theories are always fun to play with.

MJW: You gotta pour in some super evil white people, chase scenes that seem to last for days, cars that fix themselves after accidents and blow up miraculously just by going off a cliff. You have people who get shot in the chest yet fall forward instead of backward like natural…

SS: Militants who are plotting to overthrow the government in really small rooms in a little tiny house. So from a kitchen table or a small living room through kung fu…

MJW: Pimps! Corrupt cops, politicians, and/or both.

FP: Basically everything you’ve mixed into this movie. Black Dynamite is going to be animated for a Cartoon Network show right? How involved are you with that process?

SS: Pretty involved. Carl [Jones] is gonna run the show from the animation world. But we’ll write scripts. Obviously Mike’s Black Dynamite so he’ll be the voice. It’ll be fun because we’ll get to explore crazy, fantastical stuff that maybe we wouldn’t do…

FP: Yeah, it’ll be on Adult Swim after all.

SS: Yeah, we can go real crazy. Take our most subversive ideas and throw it in there.

View the trailer and some additional clips below.

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