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'Black Dynamite' gets animated treatment

By Barry Garron, Special to CNN
July 12, 2012 -- Updated 1628 GMT (0028 HKT)
Michael Jai White, shown at the
Michael Jai White, shown at the "Black Dynamite" premiere in 2009, reprises his role in the animated series.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • "Black Dynamite" film lampooned black exploitation films
  • The movie has been made into an animated series on Cartoon's Network Adult Swim
  • Some of the actors from the film voice characters in the series

(CNN) -- "Black Dynamite" has a new lease on life.

This time around, the hero of the 2009 film that lampooned blaxploitation movies is in animated form in a new series on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim program block.

Some of the actors from the film will reprise their roles, but there will be changes as well.

The movie, which enjoyed only a two-week theatrical release despite premiering at the Sundance Film Festival, was deliberately cheesy. To parody the cheap, hastily produced blaxploitation films, "Black Dynamite" actors intentionally chewed up scenery or performed awkwardly. There were telltale signs of a second-rate production, such as the appearance of a boom mike.

The new "Black Dynamite" is still set in the 1970s, but the 10-episode cartoon series is more like "Shaft" than a sendup of blaxpoitation, said Michael Jai White, who supplies Black Dynamite's voice and serves as a producer.

As in the film, the polyester pants suit-garbed Black Dynamite is a former CIA agent, a lover and a kung fu fighter. He has returned to the 'hood to combat evil and protect the children in the Whorephanage, who are looked after by the working girls and their boss, sexy no-nonsense Honey Bee (Kym Whitley).

"The characters have to be a little bigger than life, but it's a fun challenge, and the essence of the characters is still there," said Carl Jones, former executive producer of "The Boondocks" on Adult Swim, who serves as the director and an executive producer for "Black Dynamite."

"Obviously, with a cartoon, you can do more things than you can do in live action," Jones said. "It opens a lot more doors for us to explore different characters and genres."

In one episode, Black Dynamite is hired to make sure comedian Richard Pryor shows up for a scheduled performance. In the story, Pryor is distraught because audiences automatically laugh at him, making it hard to offer serious social commentary.

"I wanted to take another perspective on Richard as a human being," Jones said. "Richard never wanted to be funny. He had something to say. He was a storyteller. He was a teacher to me."

In another episode, a parody of "King Kong," Black Dynamite goes after an albino ape that scaled the iconic Watts Towers in Los Angeles.

White said he isn't concerned that, despite its late-night time period, the show could irritate those who think its frequent use of bleeped profanity and the prominence of prostitutes perpetuate unwelcome stereotypes of African-Americans.

"I don't mind that at all," White said. "This is a commentary on the time period. It is the truth that, at this time in the '70s, these were our heroes."

Added Jones, "The main thing I focused on is being honest. This is a time when pimps, hos and hustlers existed, and they thrived within their communities. And Black Dynamite is trying to stop the negative things connected with that."

Yes, Jones said, there is a whorehouse in the show, "but you never see them whoring. I made it a point not to show that. You'll never see Black Dynamite pimping either, because that's not what it's about. This was just a way to give a different world a texture that actually existed in that era."

Despite its short theatrical run, "Black Dynamite" the film drew a loyal following, and sales of the movie on DVD in 2010 were brisk.

"I think it's going to be off the chain with crazy fans," predicted Whitley. "I did not know 'Black Dynamite' was so popular. You go on the Internet. You go down to Comic-Con, and they fill the room. These are devoted fans."

Byron Minns, the voice of Bullhorn, Black Dynamite's cunning sidekick, agreed. "When I go to South Central (in Los Angeles) or New York, people say, 'Man, we wish we would have known this was in the theaters at the time.' It just didn't work out that way."

Jones thinks young viewers will tune in for a fresh viewpoint, and older viewers will watch with a sense of nostalgia.

"To me, it plays on so many different levels and on so many different platforms," he said. "There are so many different ingredients that make it powerful for just about everybody."

"Black Dynamite" premieres at 11:30 p.m. ET/PT July 15 on the Cartoon Network, which is owned by CNN's parent company.

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