But it took “Black Dynamite,” a “madcap brilliant” (Entertainment Weekly) spoof of 1970s blaxploitation action films to earn him the best reviews of his career. He co-wrote the film and stars as the title character — a “righteous brother” out to fight “The Man” and clean up the ghetto. The film is showing at The Enzian this weekend and is due out on DVD Feb. 16.
We caught up with White, 42, as he finished up a commercial for Tyler Perry’s “Why Did I get Married, Too,” which he also stars in.
Question: You obviously know a little bit about blaxploitation films. Do you have favorites?
White: “The Mack” (1973) is dramatically superior to most so-called ‘blaxploitation’ films. And well, “Avenging Disco Godfather” (1979), that title says it all — that this is real seat-of-your-pants filmmaking. I love that ‘I’m-o MAKE me a film’ attitude they had. It was an incredible time. Black folks who weren’t represented positively in the media at all, making movies, playing the hero.
Q: That genre label, ‘blaxploitation,’ has lost some of its sting since the ’70s, hasn’t it?
White: I call them ‘urban action films.’ ‘Blaxploitation’ sticks in black people’s memories. Some are still sensitive to it, if they’re not just over it. And one thing about black folks, once they’re done with some trend or other, they’re DONE with it. You go to a B.B. King or Public Enemy concert, you see nothing but white people. Black folks are DONE with that stuff (blues). White people are the ones into ’70s-style blaxploitation now.
Q: You’ve got the screen presence to be a new Fred “The Hammer” Williamson or Richard Roundtree (“Shaft”). Ever feel you were born too late?
White: These people had style, charisma, they kicked [behind] and they got the women. Where’s our Jim Browns, Billy Dee Williams today? Denzel is the new Sidney Poitier. We need a new Fred Williamson. I grew up identifying with those guys. I wanted to be Charles Bronson AND Jim Brown.
Q: Who is The Man, to you?
White: That super-rich, powerful elite who are fighting what The People want. But back in the day, the screenwriters of these genre films thought of The Man as this mustache-twisting super-villain. I remember, as a child, hearing uncles and aunts, who LOVED this idea that The Man was up to this or that, keeping us down. ‘How would you know, Uncle? You drive a BUS!’