Who's the black private dick that's a sex machine to all the chicks? SHAFT! Ya damn right!
John Shaft first appeared in 1971 in the novel Shaft and in the film of the same name. He was created by New York Times editor and author Ernest Tidyman. Tidyman, who was white, decided to write a novel about a tough black private detective. He was conceived as a black James Bond and similar to Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer.
Shaft was the main character of three films in the 1970's. He was played by Richard Roundtree. The character also appeared in a CBS TV series from 1973-1974. Only seven 90-minute TV movies were made. Shaft later appeared in the 2000 film also named Shaft, but only in a cameo with his nephew.
The Shaft character may be best known by his description in the Academy Award-winning theme song written by Issac Hayes. The song states that Shaft is "...the man / Who would risk his neck for his brother man," he's "the cat who won't cop out / When there's danger all about," and that he's "a complicated man/No one understands him but his woman."
While John Shaft is the most widely-recognized character in blaxploitation film, the groundwork for Shaft was actually laid earlier in 1971 with Melvin Van Peebles' film Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song. Both Shaft and Sweetback had tough-talking personalities and both were inspired by the Black Power movements.
Shaft can often be recognized by his expensive taste in clothing and sharp, good looks. Unlike stereotypical black characters of the time, Shaft is not a pimp, drug pusher or a thug. He is intelligent, educated, and someone to be respected, although he does have a tendency to lean toward violent behavior. He's also somewhat misogynistic, but then again, so is James Bond.
John Shaft is also the name of the original Shaft's nephew. The younger Shaft was played by Samuel L. Jackson in the film Shaft (2000). This Shaft is not a private detective, but is instead a detective with the NYPD. He later takes over his uncle's business.