Arrow Video Releases Willie Dynamite for the first time on Blu-Ray
1974 is the apex of the Blaxploitation genre. At this point, the genre had grown and expanded from defining the movement and the atypical action plot synopsis to more versatile mediums like horror and psychedelic filmmaking. Yet, grimey action was still the best way to portray cultural inequality and the hardships of ghetto life. Willie Dynamite delivers a message. Through a system of hard regulations and crooked politics, if you fight the law, the law will stop at no expense to win.
For the first time on Blu-Ray, Arrow Video released Willie Dynamite in the most complimentary manner. Giving it much needed quality justification, not even the 2005 DVD release had this much dedication to the film transfer. Where I dig into the political economy of this film, Cullen Gallagher focuses on politics in his brilliant essay, “Pimps and Politics: The Radical Satire of Willie Dynamite.” These are just one of many perks to the Arrow edition.
Willie Dynamite Trailer
Willie Dynamite, portrayed by Roscoe Orman (Gordon from Sesame Street), is not a superhero-like character like Black Belt Jones or John Shaft, fighting for justice. He is a high-end pimp adorned in ultra-flashy clothes and a bourgeois lifestyle. We see Willie Dynamite for what he is, an entrepreneur capitalizing on vice.
Israel Kirzner’s entrepreneurship theory defines the concept as someone who perceives and pursues economic opportunities under the face of uncertainty. For Willie Dynamite, that uncertainty is a police crackdown on prostitution. The results find one of Willie’s youngest women (Pashen, played by women’s basketball player and member of the Harlem Globetrotters Joyce Walker) persistently thrown in jail. These business hiccups to bail her out is maybe a nuisance and costly, but it demonstrates Willie’s nurturing feelings towards this young prostitute despite an overbearing sense of control.
That control slowly diminishes throughout the film as social worker Cora (Diana Sands) becomes the moral wrench in the story. Once a prostitute herself, Cora becomes prevalent through her saintly work, trying to psychologically rehabilitate the prostitutes. Here goal is for these women to veer away from this dangerous and destructive lifestyle they live. At first it leads to little or no effect. Working through this kind of private enterprise, prostitution shows more immediate economic gain than any legal private enterprise or anything state assistance can provide.
As Willie’s moral fiber is being torn apart by the police and other pimps, Cora finds it easier to create confusion between the women and Willie. The conflicts build to a climactic fight scene between some goons and Willie. The frustration he experiences as both sides whittle away at his existence is now too much to bear. And Pashen is at the center of this moral turmoil. Cora almost convinces her to plead guilty and begin the process of a normal life. However Willie comes bursting in the courtroom and “saves” her from the system. So Cora and the police change strategy and pour salt on the Willie’s wound, despite legal rights that are ignored.
Willie Dynamite: Laces! Welcome to the Bronx!
In the city’s prostitution arena, the pimps are accepting a hypothetical plan to socialize their strategy for the sake of absolute power over the law. It’s building personal means over the regulations that bar personal economic prosperity, if you subsidize women as employees and products. “You have to collectivize,” said Bell (Roger Robinson), the city’s top pimp. Willie, speaking up for “his bitches,” retorts, “They deserve any area they can control” not an area assigned by the collective.
Willie Dynamite: The Pimp Game
Is it the failure of embracing competition that puts the prostitution industry at risk? Or, is it the law that exhibits their own racial power struggle to fight dirty that takes the industry down like a mob? For this film, it’s both and Cora swings the legal and ethical pendulum to prove that you can exist in society as a normal middle-class worker, as hard as that may seem. What I can conclude is that Willie Dynamite is a Dante-esque film about redemption.
What makes this film important is that it acts as the reverse of most Blaxploitation films. There are no good guys, just one good girl based on the aftermath of bad decisions. The cops are crooked. The politicians are perverted as portrayed in the opening scene. It is not until someone hurts the thing Willie loves where he begins to mentally and physically breakdown and walk away anew. His paradise is not that bright purple Cadillac Fleetwood El Dorado. It’s what we wake up to every morning. We watch the transformation of a man with entrepreneurship tendencies through class struggle and legal vice. This film did not end the moral dilemma of illegal prostitution. There is no silver lining, only hope. Willie Dynamite washed his hands from a lifestyle with economic incentives and power and walked off into the cityscape searching for a higher moral purpose.