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Leading 'blaxploitation' action hero known for his popular detective role as 'Shaft' dies at 81

By Black Headline News

Black American model and actor, Richard Arnold Roundtree, better known for his role as the private detective, John Shaft, lost his battle with pancreatic cancer October 24, 2023, passing away in his Los Angeles California home at the age of 81.


Roundtree was the first Black action hero who popularized blaxploitation films in the 1970s, through famous Black films such as: Shaft and four of its sequels, Shaft's Big Score! (1972), Shaft in Africa (1973), its 2000 sequel and its 2019 sequel, as well as the eponymous television series (1973–1974). He set the gold standard for Black actors to play leading roles in Hollywood as positive role models.

The term, "blaxploitation" is a combination of the words "black" and "exploitation," and was coined in August 1972 by Junius Griffin, the president of the Beverly Hills–Hollywood NAACP branch. He claimed the genre was "proliferating offenses" to the black community in its perpetuation of stereotypes often involved in crime. However the term became adopted a more positive image through such characters as Shaft, and as Black film directors found their own successes in this niche genre. The Shaft films were some of the most exploited Black films that caressed Black movie-goers who embraced the genre with pride due to the strength and portrayal of the detective character.


On television, he played the slave Sam Bennett in the 1977 television mini-series Roots, and then starred as Dr. Daniel Reubens in the soap opera Generations from 1989 to 1991. Although Roundtree worked throughout the entirety of the 1990s, many of his films from that era were not well-received publicly; however, he found success in several stage plays and continued to perform as a top-notch actor throughout the 1990s, even after he fell sick in 1993 with breast cancer.


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