Overlooked & Underseen: Willie Dynamite
I’ve watched a lot of Blaxploitation films over the years; everything from Truck Turner (which I love) to Disco Godfather (which I don’t. Sorry Rudy Ray Moore fans!). Pam Grier is the queen of the genre and I will watch her in anything. I think there are some real Blaxploitation gems and I will be highlighting a few of them in this column from time to time.
Today’s entry is generally overlooked and, therefore, underseen… Willie Dynamite. The film stars Roscoe Orman, yes, that Roscoe Orman who played “Gordon Robinson” on Sesame Street for the past 40+ years. Orman is William “Willie Dynamite” Short. Willie is a pimp with a diverse stable of women he keeps in an apartment that looks straight out of a giallo. Willie’s women work hard for him and he spends their money on fancy clothes, cars, etc. Most Blaxploitation films depict pimps in what could be described as over the top clothing. Those films have nothing on Willie Dynamite. The costumes in this film have to be seen to be believed.
One day, Bell (Roger Robinson), who is top pimp, calls Willie to a Jedi Pimp council [lovingly recreated in the most excellent Blaxploitation homage Black Dynamite (2009) starring Michael Jai White]. Instead of working against each other, Bell wants all the pimps to work together, each getting a piece of New York City. Willie is having none of it. He believes he can be #1 and that his women should be able to work wherever they want. He basically tells Bell to fuck off. Bell, in turn, begins to make life hell for Willie and his women.
At the same time, social worker Cora (played by Diana Sands in a remarkable performance) and her boyfriend, district attorney Daniels (Thalmus Rasulala), are working to clean up the streets. Daniels wants Willie in jail and Cora is trying to reach out to Willie’s women to get them to reform. Diana Sands plays Cora with such ferociousness, she is stunning. Even if you are not a fan of this genre, Sands performance is enough of a reason to watch the film. The films takes the time to showcase one of Willie’s women, Pashen (played by Marcia McBroom of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls fame), and her struggles while in “the game”.
Willie (because of Daniels) has the police all in his business. He (and his women) are being hassled all the time. The cops are willing to do anything to get him, including lying, false arrest; you name it, they do it. Between Bell trying to force him out of business and the cops constant harassment, Willie is doing everything he can to survive.
This film isn’t without its issues but the filmmakers do try and not just showcase the glorious life of a pimp. There are characters like Cora, who try to convince Willie’s women to give up the life; she’s been there and knows what they’re dealing with. Willie, himself, might have been living the highlife at the beginning of the film but he struggles, as well. So, yes, the film does tick the boxes when it comes to the Blaxploitation genre but it seems like one of the rare ones that puts a focus (however small) on the women who work for a pimp and actually shows they are cared for and not just “racehorses” as Willie refers to them.
This movie is screaming for a US Blu-ray release. Arrow is putting it out in the UK in February 2017, but you’ll need a region-free player.