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Published:August 5th, 2008 16:28 EST
John Shaft: Can you dig it?

John Shaft: Can you dig it?

By Garrett Godwin

Who`s the cat that won`t cop out, when there`s danger all around?
Can you dig it?
They say this cat is one bad mutha-
Shut ya mout`!
I`m talkin` `bout Shaft!
We can dig it!

1971`s Shaft starred Richard Roundtree in the title role-- a black private detective in New York hired to find the daughter of a Harlem mob boss (Moses Gunn).  Based on the character from screenwriter-novelist Ernest Tidyman, the film was a hit with black and white audiences, grossing $12 million dollars in the U.S. box office.  But what was even more memorable about Shaft was the theme song composed by Issac Hayes, which won both a Golden Globe and an Oscar.

Shaft spawned not one, but two sequels:

Shaft`s Big Score (1972): John Shaft investigates the death of his best friend, but finds himself in the middle of a gang war.

Shaft in Africa (1973): The P.I. goes undercover in the Motherland to bust a slave ring that leads him to Europe.

The complete trilogy has been shown all day today on the cable network TV One -- hosted by Shaft himself, Richard Roundtree, as he gives you facts on what went on behind the scenes.

Shaft also went to the small screen on CBS in 1973, but the character was toned down and cancelled after seven episodes.  He returned to the big screen in 2000, but this time with Samuel L. Jackson as the nephew of the original: a NYPD detective.  The remake grossed $70 million dollars domestically, and there are rumors of a sequel to be released next year.

For over three decades, the legacy of Shaft continues to live on; it was said that the film started the "blaxploitation" genre in the early 1970s.  In 1994, Roundtree received the Lifetime Achievement at the MTV Movie Awards for playing the black private eye that`s a sex machine to all the ladies in all three films.  Six years later, the original film was chosen for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".  The character was even spoofed onscreen in films such as 2002`s Undercover Brother, with comedian-actor Eddie Griffin in the title role.

John Shaft was the first black action hero onscreen -- a cross between Sam Spade and James Bond.  He was strong, tough, streetwise, smart, and sexy with a fierce independence and the willingness of sticking it to "The Man".  Shaft was a complicated yet confidant man that played by his own rules -- and no one understood him but his woman.

Right on, John Shaft!