You’d be in good company if the release of Shaft this week was leaving you a bit confused. After all, it’s a sequel to Shaft (2000) and the fifth film in the series that started in 1971 with Shaft.
This time around Samuel L. Jackson returns from the 2000 entry as John Shaft, nephew of the first John Shaft, played throughout the series by Richard Roundtree and the source of even more confusion. Added to the mix is Jessie T. Usher as JJ Shaft, the son of Jackson’s character and an FBI cybersecurity expert who gets mixed up in a mystery when his best friend dies unexpectedly. To figure out what happened he enlists the help of his father as well as his great uncle while also crossing paths with his mother Maya (Regina Hall).
For all the talk about how Jackson was de-aged for Captain Marvel, the first poster seems just as dramatic in how much younger it makes the 71-year old actor appear. He’s in the lead of a group that includes all three generations of Shaft men as well as Hall’s Maya. The “More Shaft than you can handle” tagline is an exercise in running away from subtlety.
Early February saw the release of the first trailer, which debuted when Roundtree, Jackson and Usher interrupted Jimmy Kimmel’s monologue one night, offers a general overview of the story without going into too much detail. It’s clear Jr. is in need of the kind of help only his father can provide, but the younger Shaft isn’t quite as hardass as his old man. Just what the problem is isn’t quite clear, but the investigation winds up bringing them into contact with Jr.’s mother as well as his grandfather, who can still hold his own in a tight situation.
Just a week or so ago a new restricted trailer was released that starts out with the mid-elder Shaft acting a bit surprised and incredulous that his son has sought out his help. There’s plenty of foul language here to set the tone and we get the “black James Bond” joke again here. We see more of Maya, who’s conflicted about seeing her ex again, which is a funny bit that makes it clear we need more Hall in every movie. From there on out we get lots of violence and language and it ends with a joke about how the older Shaft looks like Morpheus from The Matrix, another comparison he takes issue with.
Online and Social
Warner Bros. didn’t put much effort at all into the single page about the movie, a page that includes the trailer, a synopsis, a small gallery of stills and not much else. There aren’t even links on the page to the Twitter or other social media profiles.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
The first TV commercial from mid-May emphasized the same sort of intergenerational and inter-family dynamics on display in the trailer, ignoring most everything about the actual story.
Sponsored movie-themed stickers were created that could be added to Instagram Stories.
Media and Publicity
News about the movie had been floating around for a while but late December brought the first official look at three generations of the Shaft family.
In early February it was announced that the movie would open this year’s American Black Film Festival. Jackson talked a bit about the film and how the script evolved while promoting Captain Marvel a few months ago.
Some of the cast appeared along with footage from the film when WB presented it to CinemaCon attendees in April.
The whole cast was the subject of a cover story in Ebony that had all of them talking about the new movie as well as what’s come before and how they want to continue the traditions established while also offering audiences something new.
Hall spoke briefly about her role in the buildup to her gig as the host of this year’s “BET Awards.”
All that happened about the same time a featurette was released that focused on the legacy of the Shaft character in all its incarnations over the years.
Isaac Hayes III, the son of the late composer and funk legend, penned an op-ed for Billboard that recounted how he’d been approached by WB to participate in creating the soundtrack for this movie but was eventually left out of the process. While he praises the movie itself he makes the (valid) point that for a movie so focused on legacy to discount a presence that’s been part of the franchise since the beginning is a disservice and oversight.
Jackson made one more appearance on “The Late Show” to talk about the movie and returning to the character after almost 20 years.
The marketing team has obviously decided giving anything more than the slightest level of attention to the movie’s story is a waste of time, that what will hook the audience more is the promise of lots of bluster and banter between the three generations of Shaft men. That’s the focus of the trailers, while the press and publicity has been more about the legacy of the character and how that’s being translated into 2019.
In some ways it’s a campaign that’s very self aware of its own ridiculous nature and the areas that will have audiences scratching their heads. The jokes about Shaft being the black James Bond or looking like Morpheus nod nicely to it existing in a world with its own pop culture while also being an important element of our own. And Roundtree’s line about Jackson, who plays his character’s nephew, looking older than he does is funny in that the former is only six years older than the latter.
With almost 20 years since the last movie the fact both use the same title probably doesn’t mean much at all. With a new generation on board it’s as much a reboot of the 2000 sequel as that movie was of the original series. The branding is what’s important and the gap means they don’t really need to worry about subtitles.
Picking Up the Spare
All three actors playing the different generations of Shaft got together for a joint interview about translating the character and themes for a time almost 50 years after the first one debuted.
A solo interview with Roundtree had him discussing the impact the first movie had on his career, including how it didn’t shield him from casual racism, and what it’s been like coming back to the role every now and again.
A series of five character posters, each with a single letter of the movie’s title, came out shortly after it hit theaters.