By the time Gordon Parks (1912-2006) got around to the Blaxploitation genre, he was already a well regarded and accomplished photo journalist and writer. In 1969 he directed his first feature film, the groundbreaking drama about black life in early 20th century America, The Learning Tree. Parks adapted the screenplay from his own novel and scored the picture as well.
In 1971, Parks directed the movie that kicked the Blaxploitation into the stratosphere... Shaft. While the film was essentially a solid detective story, Parks' lent the picture a perfectly gritty, street-wise style. The feel of the film, which can also be attributed to the very memorable soundtrack by Isaac Hayes, was one that took the genre to a whole new level. Naturally, many imitators were to follow.
Parks' other contributions to the genre include the first sequel to Shaft, Shaft's Big Score! (1972) and Leadbelly (1976). Gordon Parks didn't step into the directors chair too often after that and instead turned his focus to campaigning for Civil Rights, writing novels, poetry, composing music and painting. Gordon Parks was a truly great man who did it all.
Gordon's son, Gordon Parks, Jr (1934-1979) so soon after his father's success with Shaft found himself falling into his footsteps by also directing a seminal Blaxploitation film with Superfly (1972). Superfly is a movie that helped define the genre, and it's soundtrack by Curtis Mayfield was one that couldn't be rivaled.
Gordon only directed three more films in his career, all blaxploitation films: Thomasine & Bushrod (1974), the super fun teaming of Fred Williamson, Jim Brown and Jim Kelly in Three The Hard Way (1974) and the excellent ghetto love story, Aaron Loves Angela (1975). Sadly, Gordon Parks Jr. died in a tragic plane crash in Kenya in 1979 at the age of 44. But the memories of his films will live on forever.