40 Years Ago Today…

Movie poster for "Super Fly"

…Youngblood Priest (Ron O’Neal) decided to walk away from the life in Super Fly (1972). While a successful cocaine dealer, Priest has been formulating an exit strategy. He’s going to flip thirty kilos of coke in four months and walk away with one million dollars, enough to leave the perils of being a “pusherman” behind forever. Of course, Priest can’t do it alone, and with that much money at stake, you can never be sure who you can trust.

Gordon Parks’ Shaft (1971) not only showed that blaxploitation films could be profitable, it saved MGM from bankruptcy. Gordon Parks, Jr. followed in his father’s footsteps with Super Fly just a year later. Filmed on a budget of only $300,000, it pulled in over $30 million, echoing Priest’s big score.

Ron O'Neal and Polly Niles in "Super Fly"

Youngblood Priest (Ron O’Neal) leaves Cynthia (Polly Niles)
to begin the first day of the rest of his life.

Ron O’Neal stars as the ambitious Youngblood Priest. Ron would return to direct and star in the sequel, Super Fly T.N.T. (1973), which takes our “hero” out of Harlem and into the exotic locations of Rome and Africa. Super Fly T.N.T. would be released just one day after the similarly themed Shaft in Africa, though both struggled to capitalize on the success of their respective franchises.

When we first meet Priest, he is abruptly exiting the bed of his white trophy girlfriend, Cynthia (Polly Niles). He seems to have it all, hot and cold running bitches, a swank pimpmobile, and a wardrobe to die for. Still, he is a man unfulfilled. As he explains to his partner Eddie (Carl Lee), Priest is tired of the trials and tribulations of the cocaine biz.

Ron O'Neal and Carl Lee in "Super Fly"

Ron O’Neal and Carl Lee in Super Fly

Eddie is considerably taken aback at Priest so casually dismissing what he considers to be the American Dream. “You gonna give all this up? Eight track stereo… color TV in every room… and can snort a half a piece of dope every day?” Still, loyalty draws Eddie into Priest’s scheme to flip thirty keys in four months with a split down the middle so each man walks away with half a cool million.

“Look, I know it’s a rotten game, but it’s the only one The Man left us to play, and that’s the stone cold truth.” — Eddie

Julius Harris and Ron O'Neal in "Super Fly"

Scatter (Julius Harris) listens to Priest’s pitch.

Their first step in acquiring such volume is to reunite with Priest’s old mentor, Scatter (Julius Harris). Priest pulls a reluctant Scatter out of retirement, where he’s slumming as a cook in the kitchen of a hip nightclub. This favor will be the last he’ll grant to Youngblood, come what may.

Ron O'Neal and Sheila Frazier in "Super Fly"

Priest (Ron O’Neal) takes a tender bubble bath with Georgia (Sheila Frazier).

Sheila Frazier plays Georgia, Priest’s soul sister and confidante. Despite her luxurious attire and furnishings, she would settle for less if it would take the burden of street life off of Priest’s shoulders. She is his motivation, the person pushing the “pusherman” to seek a better life for the two of them. She does not judge him, however, as she explains during their bubble bath palaver.

A photo montage of their plan in motion is set to “Pusherman” by The Curtis Mayfield Experience (who performed an abbreviated version of the song earlier in the nightclub scene), and it is clearly ahead of its time. Photographed by Gordon Parks, Sr., the sequence follows the first kilo of cocaine, from weighing to cutting to packaging to distribution to sale into the hands of its end consumers, New Yorkers from all walks of life. The soundtrack, all written and composed by Curtis Mayfield, is one of the few to outgross the film that featured it and became an instant funk classic.

Sig Shore, born in Harlem, produced all three Super Fly films and would direct the third, The Return of Superfly (1990), without O’Neal. Shore would also put in a cameo appearance (billed as “Mike Richards”) at the end of this film, taking the role of Deputy Commissioner Reardon. Sadly, The Return of Superfly would be his last film before succumbing to chronic pneumonia at the age of 87.

Carl Lee and Ron O'Neal in "Super Fly"

Eddie (Carl Lee) gives Priest (Ron O’Neal) the "straight dope."

“Man, people been using me all my life. Yeah, that honky’s using me. So what? Y’know, I’m glad he’s using me, because I’m gonna make a piss pot full of money, and I’m gonna live like a prince, a ****ing black prince!” — Eddie


  1. dotti46 says:

    it was far from loyalty that made eddie go along with priest’s idea to drop the dope game. as he said in the movie, “i went along with that idea of yours because i had nothing else”. sometimes i wonder if some critics and i saw the same ‘super fly’ movie.

    • RayRay says:

      Different insights are what make art appreciation a worthwhile pursuit. Sorry if we disagree.

      At least initially, Eddie doesn’t seem to be going along with the notion of dropping the dope game, just Priest’s last big score and the dangerous gambit involved. Sure, Priest would prefer Eddie to bow out along with him, but Eddie seems to have other thoughts on the matter as evidenced by his quotes above.

      I’m curious what your interpretation is, and why you consider it so dramatically different.

      • dotti46 says:

        my conclusion is…as eddie stated…that priest was able to talk him into going along with priest’s plan to make one last score and shelf the drug game because eddie may have realized without priest and his connection he had nothing. once they got an open line from the corrupt cops, he no longer had to rely on priest and his dream break loose. all of eddie’s feelings of friendship and obligation for priest went totally by the wayside.

        • RayRay says:

          Hmm. Very valid points.

          I have a hard time taking Eddie’s comments at face value, however, and think there’s considerable subtext in the early parts of the film. We get a few glimpses of life beyond the street, between Scatter’s short-order cook gig and the cameo from the Curtis Mayfield Experience as themselves. It’s certainly far less glamorous than Priest’s (and, by extension, Eddie’s) life in the fast lane.

          I still argue that Eddie’s initially motivated by loyalty in the same way that Scatter is. Priest is that kind of charismatic figure (and appropriately named). Eddie may very well claim that he had no other options, and that surely would be what he’d tell Priest as well if confronted about his betrayal. He doesn’t exactly have a good track record for taking responsibility for his choices, which puts him in direct contrast to Priest.

          Eddie could have betrayed Priest long before that moment, and probably to better effect. I believe Eddie felt that he was the one being betrayed, that Priest was leaving him behind by leaving the life behind. Sadly, as evidenced by the events alluded to in “The Return of Superfly” (1990), Eddie would have been better off staying with Priest.

          In any event, thanks so much for your comments. I hope our difference of opinion doesn’t keep you from enjoying the site.

          • dotti46 says:

            i know you’ll soon tire of my back and forth bantering but i’m having a difficult time grasping your logic. there’s no indication that what eddie told priest was not truly where his head was. it’s apparent that their heavy cash flow and lavish lifestyle was due to the sharpness of priest and eddie was clever enough to beaware of that. eddie stated to priest that “if it wasn’t for you, i’d be o-ded somewhere” which was no doubt the truth). try listening to ‘eddie you should have known better’ on the superfly soundtrack. he didn’t feel betrayed (why would he?). eddie was just all about eddie.

  2. dotti46 says:

    scatter owned the restaurant where he worked and i believe he said several square blocks. also, wasn’t scatter pushing a rolls(not brand new but a nice one just the same). his lifestyle wasn’t too tacky. eddie made reference to the fact that he and priest were going to be “bigger than scatter ever was.” i enjoy any site discussing ‘super fly’ even though i may disagree with some of the comments. i wish others would join in.

  3. RayRay says:

    No worries. If I didn’t thoroughly enjoy movie banter, I wouldn’t have created a site to host it. I too would welcome a third opinion, especially if it was different from both of ours.

    My logic regarding Eddie is pretty simple. He’s always going to claim “I had no choice” because that avoids responsibility, the “I can’t get a job because life’s not fair” mentality that masks laziness and deceit. I do believe we actually agree about Eddie’s core personality, just differing about whether he was going to betray Priest right out of the gate or if it comes about gradually.

    Your attention to detail and conviction have definitely swayed me. I’m going to have to give this another watch with fresh eyes.

  4. dotti46 says:

    i agree eddie was lazy and into making as much money as possible without having to break much sweat and had a hunger for the gutter life. the lyrics in the song about him seem to imply that he came from a decent community where expectations for him were high but as commissioner reardon put it to priest, he chose to be “just another black junkie”. the song ‘super fly’ tells us that priest was born into the hopeless ghetto life. he was influenced into the drug world by being scatter’s gopher boy…”i been washing your wheels since i was young. you were always my main man…scatter. who else could i turn to.” i believe eddie betrayed priest to show loyalty and get on the good side of “the man”. i think he saw this as a once in a lifetime opportunity and he was going to grab on and hold tight.

    • RayRay says:

      I love the irony in that of the film’s cast, Priest is clearly the best equipped to thrive in the hustler lifestyle, but he’s the one who wants it least. Scatter was safe only while he stood on the outside looking in, and Eddie was on a collision course with fate probably his whole life. Eddie’s the type of guy who’s going to push his luck until it kills him.

      I just really wish Ron O’Neal and Carl Lee had reprised their roles in “The Return of Superfly” to see that play out. I just don’t think Nathan Purdee was ever up to carrying the emotional weight of avenging Eddie in the way that O’Neal could have.

  5. dotti46 says:

    i love love love/ed this movie and was mad about ron o’neal’s realistic portrayal of this (somewhat good hearted) hustler. ron o’neal had been a shakespearean actor in the theater and his transformation into this character was phenomenal. it’s worse than a filthy shame the way those in the black movement turn against him and hollywood refused to give him other leading roles to show his full acting potential. so sad.

    • RayRay says:

      “Red Dawn” (1984) is really a cheesy, jingoistic piece of cinema trash, but O’Neal definitely elevates things with his portrayal of conflicted Cuban Colonel Bella.

      I would’ve loved to have seen him headline a spaghetti western. He would’ve looked more at home than Jim Brown or Jim Kelly ever did. While I enjoy their work as well, O’Neal certainly had the superior acting chops.

      • dotti46 says:

        what is a spaghetti western? yeah, i would have liked to have seen him in decent movies where he portrayed invincible leading characters with a love interest (one that doesn’t end up dead as she did in the movie ‘the hitter’). i know, i know, cool off, dotti. it’s really a shame the way his talent was allowed to waste away on the vine because of the misguided political push back on ‘super fly’. the real message of this movie was entirely missed or misconstrued (some intentionally) as glamorizing the drug life. to me that would be true if that’s where one’s head is anyway. i would love to watch more of his other movies but they seem to be just a reflection of how his talent was abused.

        • RayRay says:

          “Spaghetti westerns” were Italian western productions generally made cheaply to capitalize on the popularity of the genre. The most famous are the “Dollars Trilogy” starring Clint Eastwood as “The Man With No Name.” Some folks can’t get over the bad dubbing and sometimes hokey action, especially in later years when they became more parody than anything else. To their credit, they tended to be grittier, more controversial, and take more chances than the typical John Wayne American western.

          Jim Brown made a couple in the 1970s, blurring the lines between spaghetti western and blaxploitation. As much as I like Jim Brown and appreciate him helping to break racial barriers, he wasn’t much of an actor. I think Ron O’Neal could’ve really been able to do something worthwhile in the genre beyond “oppressed black hero is driven to violence,” which was generally the Jim Brown schtick in just about all of his films.

  6. dotti46 says:

    i don’t mean to be nit-picky (well maybe a little) but i read your critique of this movie again. your description of georgia as priest’s soul sister and confidante sorta plays down their real relationship. she was his ‘main woman’ and he was lavishing a huge amount of the spoils from his trade on her. saying she was “pushing” priest is somewhat overstating what she was doing. she was simply encouraging and supporting him in his very own idea of “getting out of this scene…both of us, baby”.

    • RayRay says:

      Yeah, admittedly “pushing” is overstating a bit, but I just wanted to juxtapose her influence with the supposed influence of the “pusherman” over his clientele. Which is kinda ironic since it’s made painfully clear that Priest doesn’t have to push product on anyone. The demand is already there.

      She does, however, believe in him as a man and as a human being, and I’m not sure he’d see the possibilities at the end of his gauntlet without her counsel. Is there suggestion that “getting out” is his idea? Not asking sarcastically, just genuinely curious, and you’re clearly someone who would know or at least has given such things considerable thought.

  7. dotti46 says:

    i wish i was able to find a site that gives details of ron o’neal’s private life. i’d just love to be all up in his business with details of his first marriage and when he married his second wife. i know he’s gone but i’m still one of his hardcore fans. not only did hollywood abuse him but black media also hated on him and treated him as if he didn’t exist. when he was stabbed in 1983 there was about an inch high article addressing it. they never forgave him for helping make super fly arguably the most impressive film of the black movie era. they didn’t even bother to mention his passing in any of the black publications.

  8. dotti46 says:

    in the beginning when priest is in bed with his socialite “woman like you” girlfriend he’s staring into space as if he has something quite heavy broiling in his mind. he looks over at
    cynthia somewhat admiringly but then turns his head and gives off what seems to be a sigh of discontent. the head bang by the junkies seemed to cinch the thought to throw it in. remember he communicates to eddie that he wants to get out “before i have to kill somebody; before someone ices me.” during the tub scene georgia explains she understands his need for “dope” and she’s down for anything she can do to help ease his weight. (not a mention of getting out). only after he lays out his ‘big hit and git’ plan to her in the park does she suggest if he gets out ‘now’ she would “be happy with a modest life; even a poor one if he would.” and, as we know, he was having none of that.

  9. dotti46 says:

    rayray now ‘i’m’ just asking without sarcasm, what part of the film gives you even the most minute inkling that getting out of the drug biz was georgia’s idea? ease up and give a brother his due.

  10. dotti46 says:

    rayray! say you’re not mad.

    • RayRay says:

      Haha. No, I’m not mad at all. Just really busy with my day job. I’ve very much enjoyed this discussion.

      I also want to take the time to sit down and give this another watch with your observations in mind. I know that if I just try to throw a response on here from my admittedly faulty memory, you’ll call me on it. And rightly so!

      Don’t worry. I’ll definitely be back to comment on this in the very near future.

  11. Polly says:

    This montage does not have one picture of me in it. I am tired of being portrayed this way. The picture from the movie shows that I am longer and more athletic than the coke sniffing peanut you have displayed. Please get your facts straight!

    • RayRay says:

      Very strange. The montage image did not have you credited or tagged. Since it’s confusing Google searches and having an unintended impact, I’ve gone and removed the montage image entirely. My sincere apologies for any confusion this may have caused. This blog does not get very many hits at all, so I’m genuinely confused as to why that particular image would have filtered up to top results. Best wishes.

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