Parks's Big Score!

Gordon Parks paved the way for modern African-American directors

On NPR's Weekend Edition, film critic Elvis Mitchell once said, "I think these movies require a second viewing, just so we can get a sense of what it was they communicated when they were first seen in a movie theater."

He was referring to The Learning Tree and Shaft, two films directed by author/photojournalist/composer/ former bordello piano player Gordon Parks. In the MFA series The Films of Gordon Parks: Retrospective of a Living Legend, ardent fans and neophytes alike will get a chance to see (or revisit, as Mitchell suggests) the work of the first African-American auteur to successfully visualize black pride on-screen -- "for us, by us" filmmaking, if you will.

Although Parks, who turns 89 in November, may not be an instantly recognizable name like Spike Lee or John Singleton, the man certainly has paved the way for those men. Adapted from his semiautobiographical novel in 1969, the earnest and revealing Treemarked the first time an African-American director helmed a major studio film. He followed that up with the immortal Shaft in 1972, a movie that's still as cool and tough as it was back in the day -- and still better than the repugnant remake Singleton did last year. Shaft ushered in the blaxploitation era of cinema and inspired countless knockoffs. (In 1972 son Gordon Parks Jr. would follow in Dad's footsteps with his own badass Superfly.)

Who's the private dick who's a sex machine with all the chicks?
Who's the private dick who's a sex machine with all the chicks?

Tree and Shaft will be shown, along with Shaft's Big Score!, Leadbelly, Solomon Northup's Odyssey and the 2000 HBO documentary Half Past Autumn: The Life and Work of Gordon Parks. So for those African-Americans who don't wanna see Rush Hour 2 again and are looking for some black movies that will make them feel proud once they leave the theater, you can never go wrong with the Parks canon.

 
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