Based on the ’70s Blaxploitation spoof cult classic Black Dynamite, the Adult Swim animated series – which returns this week for a second season – serves up a unique take on the legendary exploits of its titular martial arts vigilante and legendary ladies man.
The film itself is a perfect, quipped-filled love letter to the Blaxploitation genre, casting Black Dynamite (played by Michael Jai White) as the tongue-in-cheek hero tasked with avenging his brother and solving the mystery behind the secretly nefarious “panty-dropping,” manhood-shrinking malt liquor that plagues the ghetto all while keeping the kiddies at the Orphanage safe from the grips of smack. No small feat, Black Dynamite, with the help from cohorts, Bullhorn (played by Byron Minns), pimp master Cream Corn (played by Tommy Davidson) and “queen hoe,” Honeybee (played by Kym Whitley), dish up vengeance, paying homage to Blaxploitation with some scenes straight from genre film favorites (Jai White tells me the infamous Pimp Council roundtable was inspired by the little-known Willy Dynamite) to retaining the genre’s signature gritty aesthetic and endearing amateur touches such as erroneous boom mike slips and re-hashed stock footage car crashes.
With a band of characters, whose names roll off your tongue just as easily as the wisecracking one-liner slings, the transition from feature to animated series seemed like a brilliant no-brainer. In 2011, under the direction of Carl Jones (of Boondocks fame), Black Dynamite was picked up as an animated spin-off for Adult Swim. Michael Jai White and Byron Minns came on board as both producers and voice-over talent. While the animated series retains the outlandish humor of the original feature, like with most animation (a nod to South Park), it can and does get away with much more, usually toeing the line, almost seamlessly and applaudably, between decency and gags. The series goes a step further with hilarious controversial cameos (the episode “Just Beat It or Jackson Five Across Yo’ Eyes” is a favorite) and adventures that pit the crew against everything from O.J Simpson in space to Elvis’ discreet return to Graceland. The series is nicely served up with more well-delivered pop references than you can shake nunchucks at and rendered in a slick anime-style.
Like a tart with a heart, Black Dynamite is more than a sassy cheap trick, though. Beneath being hard on “The Man” and soft on prostitutes, the story ultimately reveals at its core the golden rules of friendship, family and, of course, kung-fu treachery.
I recently sat down with Michael Jai White and Byron Minns during a New York junket to talk about how their own friendship served as an inspiration to the series as well as what’s in store for season two.
FreakSugar: What were some of your favorite scenes to shoot in the film?
Michael Jai White: One of my favorite scenes is a scene that I have with Byron, who plays Bullhorn. The scene is when I first come to Bullhorn for help. Something about the scene re-created my experience as a youngster looking at movies like Three the Hard Way where I’d see two heroes come together. That was a big moment for me growing up and to provide that imagery again resonated with me.
Also, the fact that Byron and I started writing this in my room at my house and I was seeing us on screen together. What a minute! I think that is the first time in our lives we were on screen together. Yeah, there was something about that scene that always warms my heart. I see that and feel like there is a completion there. There is a whole, full circle thing. It’s just a very personal thing for me. That is a scene that I celebrate more than any other scene.
Byron Minns: It embodies that friend you can depend on no matter what.
Jai White: Yeah, it’s apropos. We came together in the scene and we came together to write the movie. We’re friends like that in real life. That’s my Ace. Something about that scene brings it all together. We looked up to strong, black males. We fortunately had those images growing up. You don’t really see it very much now.
FreakSugar: That leads me to another question. If you were to re-imagine Black Dynamite in the present day, which iconic characters would you spoof or pay homage to in the same vein as you did with Nixon or Richard Pryor on the show?
Minns: That’s a tough one. Well, the character is just timeless. We’d have to think about that. Maybe, the Koch Brothers.
Jai White: Fox News. Yeah, that’d be funny.
FreakSugar: How did you come up with the characters for the Pimp Council scene featured in the film?
Jai White: That was influenced by a movie called Willy Dynamite. There is a pimp council scene in that film that is very difficult to top as far as the humor. It wasn’t shot to be funny but it’s one of the funniest scenes that I’d ever seen. We’re lampooning things like that. I welcome everyone to pull up on YouTube the Willy Dynamite Pimp Council scene. It’s hilarious without trying to be.
Minns: The head of the Council was played by Obba Babatunde as kind of taking from the blind “Daddy Mack” in Max Julien’s film, The Mack. The names came first. That came from sitting around and Mike coming up with names like Chocolate GiddyUp.
Jai White: Chocolate GiddyUp was a name that I used to use. I would tell silly girls that I was a cowboy stripper named Chocolate GiddyUp. It was my stripper stage name. I used that for years.
FreakSugar: The characters’ lines are great. “I’m spending more bail money than I’m getting tail money”!
Minns: When we write, knowing and growing up with those characters, that stuff just kind of came out. It kind of writes itself.
FreakSugar: A lot of people have been wondering. Is there going to be a sequel to the film?
Jai White: There are a few things we got in the works. I’ve always envisioned it as three different types of Blaxploitation films, Black Dynamite being one of the three. We’re currently looking at the other two in that ‘70s genre.
Minns: Using the same cast.
Jai White: Yeah, It’s kind of like a Monty Python influence. They had The Holy Grail, Life of Brian-that type of thing.
FreakSugar: How was Black Dynamite translated into an animated series?
Jai White: The idea for the animated series was Carl Jones’ idea. We couldn’t have possibly conjured up the animated series. That’s something beyond our realm. That has to be an animator who really understands everything, especially nuances. I think it’s easy to run out and try to capitalize on something that’s hot but it’s difficult to deliver in the way that he was able to do. The cartoon is very much similar to the movie more so than any other cartoons I’ve seen because the humor is in the nuance of the acting in a lot of cases. He really uses very natural acting faces and that is a very sophisticated kind of humor.
FreakSugar: What can people expect for season two?
Jai White: We paid close attention to what worked in the last season and we got a lot of feedback. We basically give them more of what works. It’s great that we have time to hone our skills. I think we’ve done that and it’s going to be a much better season.
Minns: We explore the family dynamic of our central characters a little more. We have a lot of new guest stars and some more of those iconic figures as well. We have a Bill Cosby episode. Nixon comes back again. We have a “Black Jaws” episode, which is our parody of Jaws. We also have our own take of The Wizard of Oz called “The Wizard of Watts.” We have Mr. Rogers.
FreakSugar: What do you attribute to the success of the animated series on Adult Swim?
Minns: For one, [Adult Swim executive] Michael Lazzo is a genius. Just a visionary in terms of picking the shows and allowing the shows to become what they’re supposed to become. They really help shepherd the shows without stopping the creative process. It has been an amazing relationship. Of course, Carl Jones is also a visionary with everything from the look of the show to what we write and the things we address. He has been really clear. For us, the rest of it comes naturally. We have been living with these characters for the last so many years. We know them well.
FreakSugar: Are there are any other mediums that you’d like to try or spin-offs that you’d like to set these characters in?
Jai White: We’d like to do a breakfast cereal and then get a board game (laughs).
Minns: We had talked about a video game…
Jai White: We’d need a little guidance on that and we’d take somebody else’s expertise and make it work for us because we’re creative types who want to do our own thing.
Minns: There was a time when there was talk of it being a musical. A ‘70s musical-Black Dynamite on Broadway. That’d be cool.
The season two premiere of Black Dynamite airs October 18 at 10:30 P.M. EST on Adult Swim.