Sometimes a post idea for Darkjive happens organically: the intersection of various occurrences in my life make it clear that I MUST post about something in particular.
In this case, “Mahogany” started out as a request from a reader who thought that, because it was primarily shot here in Chicago, the lack of a post was a glaring omission on my part.
Additionally, a certain co-worker has referred to me as Miss Ross (a Mahogany reference) for years, because of my borderline-theatrical vintage fashion sense.
I also just recently got past my disdain for the “Theme from Mahogany” so that I could view the film for the first time in its entirety. Alas, the time has come…
Ultimately, this is a cult movie in the truest sense of the word. Watch it for the fashion, for the shots of Chicago in the 70s, for the classic rags to riches tale… or even simply for the dialogue. “Mahogany” is the story of Tracy, a shop girl from Bronzeville who takes classes at a Fashion Design school at night and dreams of making it as a designer… even as she climbs the ladder of success as an unlikely model. Starring Diana Ross and Billy Dee Williams, it’s also a sadly flawed tale of conflicting motivations and hard-won love.
A wonderful taste of “Making It” seventies-style… but at what cost? Losing love? Identity? Or maybe, can she have it all?
I will start with the disclaimer: I am not really a blaxploitation film lover. I’m a lover of their funky romps-of-soundtracks. That said, I dig Shaft in Africa despite its more reserved soundtrack. Why? It’s titled Shaft…..in Africa! Not only Africa, but, specifically, Ethiopia… a country that holds a lot of romance for me because its people fought colonization (and won) in a time when Africa was being sliced up like hot apple pie.
Fast forward sixty years to this film. Shaft’s mission is to break up a human trafficking ring luring young Africans to Paris. Starring (former Ebony-Jet Fashion Fair model) Richard Roundtree and Vonetta McKee, Shaft in Africa (1973) also encompasses a love storyline between Shaft and Aleme. Lovely as McKee is in this film, amazing scenes of both Paris in the 70s and Ethiopia are enough reason to snatch up a copy of this film.
One of my favorite touches to this film is the Capoiera-styled fight scenes and the 007-outfitted wooden staff that Shaft uses when he goes undercover: the staff has a built-in camera and anything else he may need. It’s like James Bond, but he gets dirty…. and I like it.
One note about the soundtrack: the theme song was recorded by the 4 Tops (“Are You Man Enough”) and the soundtrack was composed by Chicago’s own Johnny Pate. Pate was the arranger for most of the early work by the Impressions and the man who Curtis Mayfield relied on as a orchestrator/arranger for years. In fact in Rolling Stone’s 1972 review of the Superfly soundtrack, Bob Donat stated,
“…equal credit of course goes to arranger – orchestrator and long-time Mayfield collaborator Johnny Pate, who’s written charts for Curtis and the Impressions since the “Gypsy Woman” days.”