On Monday, June 10, Samuel L. Jackson, Jessie T. Usher, Richard Roundtree, Regina Hall, Alexandra Shipp, and more joined the red carpet premiere of Shaft in NYC.
We spoke with the cast members along with Kenya Barris and Tim Story about the reboot of the classic franchise and their experience taking on the legendary production.
The Knockturnal: Can you talk about some of the changes that the movie undergoes throughout the years in terms of the evolution of the ideology?
Jessie T. Usher: “There’s a lot of things that have changed since the 70s. There’s a lot of things that have changed since 2001 on what it means to be masculine and what it means to be a father figure and be receptive of other people’s wants, and needs, and desires. Shaft has always been that kind of person who just doesn’t care. But we see in this movie that he does and there’s just certain things that matter to him that you never would have imagined before seeing this movie. So when those moments come up [you see how] the Shaft way of handling things is not always the best way of handling things, so it’s nice to just expand those horizons. That’s kind of what this movie was about. It’s not a one dimensional thing to be masculine or whatever that Shaft characteristic is. It’s nice to just be all inclusive.”
The Knockturnal: What did you learn about your character that you did not see as clearly in the previous versions?
Samuel L. Jackson: “That [Shaft] does have a level of empathy. It’s always fun to make a discovery when you’re working. It makes the day better. When you’re there, you plan to do a lot of things but what you can’t plan for is what that person does on the other side that makes you actually feel what you need to feel. So it’s always great when that happens, when you have that revelatory moment.”
The Knockturnal:What are you hoping people of this generation will take away from this film?
Samuel L. Jackson: “That they hopefully will take the time to go back to 1971. Most people know the music, which is funny. The music has endured. When you hear that music, everybody goes, oh Shaft, but they still haven’t watched the film. [Hopefully] they’ll go back and watch the film and watch Richard to see what made us change and what ignited the Blaxploitation period of filmmaking and created in us a sense of wanting to be the anti-hero that he was.”
Jessie T. Usher: “Something that I was really happy to see is that at the end of this film, you see three generations of the same character, which some people may say is egotistical or over masculine, all those types of things. But you see the three generations show so much respect and appreciation for each other. Although we nit pick throughout the entire movie, by the end of it, we see eye to eye, finally. And I think that’s something everybody needs to take away from it. No matter how you feel, at odds with people who are not of the same generation as you, the same race as you, there’s [still] a common ground there. And as long as you can view that and you can respect that, and receive that. There’s a lot that we can accomplish.”
Regina Hall: “I hope they enjoy it. You know what I mean? I hope they enjoy it and I hope there’s something that each generation in the film learns from the other. There’s wisdom in every generation. We all have something to learn from each other. I always like when I see people talking. When I see people on their phone, there’s less human contact and I hope people remember that it’s really wonderful to make eye contact with someone. I rather give hugs and do pictures. There’s something about connecting to the energy of another person that I find wonderful so I hope they find that. And I hope they laugh.”
Richard Roundtree: “That the millennials and the old school people come together and learn from each other. I have my millennial daughter with me and she’s teaching me [laughter].”
The Knockturnal: Can you talk about the female voice in this film and how you connected with your character?
Alexandra Shipp: “Well I was really excited about my character. And when I heard Shaft, I said, yeah ok, but do I have to have my titties out? What’s the whole vibe, what’s the script say? And I was really happy to see my character strong and smart and she threw it just as much as she caught it. She’s a doctor! That’s always nice. I’m not a doctor, don’t trust me with a scalpel! That being said, it was really fun playing her. They gave me a stethoscope; that was fun. But she’s also really smart and really funny and I loved that about her. And I think that young women need to see that more times than not. And I love that she didn’t fall under the bracket of p*ssy. She wasn’t just p*ssy. She was a woman! She had something to say. She had something to do. And she’s never the victim.”
The Knockturnal: What was the most compelling thing about telling this story to this generation?
Tim Story: “That I get to have this debate about what’s right and what’s wrong. When it comes to the old school, there’s things that maybe the millennials don’t do today and sometimes I say, ‘you know what, it might be nice if this was brought up.’ I also love to have the discussion about what millennials do today that the old school has to take and use. So it’s fun to have that debate, that conversation in the movie.”
Kenya Barris: “My favorite joke is when he asks JJ, ‘you sure you like p*ssy? Because you don’t say p*ssy like you like p*ssy.’ [laughter] And it was my favorite joke because the whole point is that we know he is a misogynist, but we have another character who is more elevated and coming from a different place. And he’s constantly pointing fingers but a lot of what we’re seeing now is that men aren’t men. They don’t open doors, men don’t believe in being providers and I think that some of that is taking away from some of our evolution that we need to grow. There are some things about being protectors, being providers, the strong support of our family, that I think is important. Shaft is learning from his son and JJ is learning from Shaft! If you can take away anything, that’s what I’d like them to take away.”
The Knockturnal: How does this film respond to the current events in America?
Tim Story: “Well look, that’s literally what this was set up to do. We’re dealing with a lot of situations and issues and they demand that we sit down and have a conversation about it and try to figure it out. We have a lot of fun in this movie and basically we’re just saying figure it out! And you have to be patient; it’s going to take time, but the big thing is for us to respect one another and respect each other’s views when it comes to generations. And kind of see if we can mesh something together that works the best.”
The Knockturnal: What are some of the similarities between the character Shaft and Samuel L. Jackson?
Samuel L. Jackson: “He’s black, I’m black. He’s tall, I’m tall. I like his voice. Sam Jackson’s got more money than that guy and he doesn’t have to do anything he doesn’t want to do. [Also], I’d like to think that I’d do anything for my brother-man. I have people’s back! I’m a good son, I’m a good husband, I’m a good father. I’m a good friend. I’m all those things.”
The Knockturnal: What does this legacy mean to you?
Alexandra Shipp: “It’s really cool to be apart of this Shaft world. I think especially in this day and age. I think it’s something that we have needed and that we’ve been missing over these last 18-19 years since the last one. Shaft was the first superhero but he also was a representation of being black and being proud and not being a villain. He was a hero. And he was also defending the Black Panthers and he was fighting for his brothers. And I think there’s something to be said about that. And I think that’s something that we’ve been missing. We didn’t have it before Shaft and we haven’t had it since, and I’m so happy they brought it back. And also, Jessie’s Shaft is so great. It doesn’t have to be Richard’s, it doesn’t have to be Sam’s; it’s his own and that’s what’s so exciting.”
Kenya Barris: “I got a chance to work with Will Smith. I got a chance to work with Samuel L. Jackson, Eddie Murphy, etc. Spike Lee just pulled me aside! And I’m doing what I’m doing because of Spike. I couldn’t dream this. If I woke up from a crazy dream, it wouldn’t have been this crazy. So I’m really appreciative and aware of how blessed I am. And I want to continue to work hard so that I can open doors for my kids to continue what the people before me started.”
Luna Lauren Valez: “I mean, walking on set and working with Sam Jackson. It’s an incredible thing when you get to work with an icon/legend/ wonderful actor who is as generous as he is. [I hope people will have] a respect, not only for family but also for legacy, which just came to me when speaking to someone else. I was a kid when the first one came out and now I’m in it. Just looking at Sam and Richard Roundtree and Jessie, it’s like, this is familia.”
Adrienne C. Moore: “You know how you have that one summer where you watch the same movie everyday for the entire summer? That was my first memory of Shaft. And then obviously when Samuel took over the role and then I said, aw man I want to do an action movie like this one day. And so to be apart of it was a dream come true. So I’m living the dream right now for sure.”
Cedric The Entertainer: “I was a little kid seeing Shaft in the 70s so, one, of course, is the leather jacket, walking down the street, looking smooth. When he turned the corner with that city background, you’re like ok. I lived in St. Louis and before that an even smaller town, so the idea of this person who was in charge and the man about town, I was like, I can do that. And I did. Thank you Shaft. For that reason I’m a bad mother shut your mouth.”
Catch Shaft in theaters on June 14.