To my surprise, I noticed something very peculiar about Shaft in Africa and the presentation. Upon hitting "Play" on the DVD menu, I encountered the typical MGM logo with Leo the Lion but underneath the banner was a Blackface caricature of a Pickaninny Negro. I had never really paid much mind to these snipes beginning in every film. Merely a coincidence? I fear not. After perusing through categories of Metro-Goldwin-Mayer films and animated cartoons of the 40s, I found that 1/3rd of every animated MGM production had racially "charged" representations of Uncle Tom's. For a company known for faux-minstrel animated toons, they brazenly slapped their culturally defining show piece on the logo. For better or worse, this is a significant piece of probable coincidence that really aids the temperament of Shaft in Africa and John Shaft's cool cat attitude.
The plot is simple, pulpy, and utterly fantastic. After getting punched out and drugged, John Shaft finds himself being forced into helping a group of Africans (and their inane traditions) break apart an Africa-to-Europe slavery ring. Along for the ride is a dog, a Big Buck bodyguard, and a "drop-dead accomplice" who happens to be a princess of the Manta tribe. In a humorous scene of the super-suave nature of John Shaft, he instantly charms a princess into propositioning sex. She warns him softly that come February, in a couple months, she will enter "chela" which she will undergo a clitoridectomy. His response bordered a flabbergasted "what the fuck?!" and flashed a side of John Shaft we've never seen - a self-loathing African-American. Throughout the picture, you will see John Shaft doubt even his own culture as he questions motives, traditions, and the hostile, ignorant nature of his brethren. When asked if he could carry "a piece," they handed him a stick. The street-smart detective was suddenly cast out of his comfortably hazardous environment into the almost-dystopian landscape occupied by brutish savages. Shaft in Africa puts "the Brother man in his Motherland" but against everyone's better judgment, Shaft isn't too enthused to suckle on his "mother's" bosom.
Shaft in Africa stands still as one of the greatest blaxploitation entries to ever surprise the hell out of white folks. Armed with a stick doubling as a camera and urban survivalist techniques not including jive-talking, John Shaft turns a sequel with low expectations basing itself off an idea of a Negro Bond into a frivolous foray into euphemisms and the idea of a self-deprecating Tom that refuses to embrace his upbringing. While not being born in Africa, most would beg to see that Africa is the motherland of John Shaft but his cold remarks suggest otherwise. John Shaft holsters many weapons but the most lethal is his contempt for Africa. I don't entirely blame him, I despise the hellhole too. Perhaps I'm being insensitive but it seems that John Shaft shares similar views on his "mothering land." For that matter, It's almost a shame that the Shaft television series was canceled after only seven episodes. While Shaft connoisseurs loathed the property, It would have been nice to see the concept fully fleshed before being aborted. Shaft in Africa remains one of the most surprising gems to have come out of a classic license. For a series compromised of putting-on Whitey and his ways, It's refreshing to see the blow returned to the African kind. I can imagine this film having Blacks tucking their tails between their legs upon exiting the theater.