I don’t speak for all Black people. Far from it. But, one thing I can tell you with certainty is that a lot of Black people like the martial arts genre.
Now, honestly, if you ask MOST people if they like martial arts movies like Kill Bill, they’ll likely tell you that they do (hell, Everything Everywhere All At Once even won Best Picture, and that has a ton of martial arts in it).
However, I think there’s a special connection to Black people when it comes to the martial arts genre, and here are just a few such examples of that.
Stretching all the way back to the blaxploitation films of the ‘70s is Dolemite, which gets into the real nitty gritty. Dolemite is a nightclub owner/pimp/comedian who gets sent to jail for a crime he didn’t even commit. But, once released, there is Hell to pay. Thankfully, he’s not alone, as he has his entourage of female karate experts by his side to clean up the streets.
Honestly, the choreography in Dolemite isn’t amazing, but it makes up for it when you see Dolemite delivering his best spinning roundhouse kicks to the midsection of hapless enforcers. Take that, suckers!
The Last Dragon
When it comes to cult classics, you don’t get more cult (or more classic) than 1985’s The Last Dragon (sometimes even referred to as Barry Gordy’s The Last Dragon, since it’s a Motown Productions picture). The story of a Bruce Lee-loving martial artist named Leroy Green who desires to acquire “the glow,” the film is roughly one part comedy, and three parts badass.
My favorite character is, of course, Sho’nuff, a.k.a. The Shogun of Harlem. Unlike in Dolemite, where the martial arts was pretty silly, the kung fu action here looks legit, as it should, since its lead hero, Leroy Green, was actually played by the real-life martial artist, Taimak. So, in other words, is The Last Dragon the meanest, prettiest, and baddest mofo martial arts movie ever made? SHO’NUFF!
When I ranked the Z Fighters from Dragon Ball Z, I put Piccolo right at the top, as how could I not? Piccolo’s Black. Okay, okay. He’s not really Black. He’s green, and Namekian.
However, if you ask a lot of Black American fans who their favorite Dragon Ball Z character is, there’s probably a good chance they’ll put Piccolo near the top, and for the exact same reason that I just mentioned.
Which is strange, since it’s not like Piccolo’s voice actors were Black, or anything like that. But, for some reason or another, a lot of people (most notably Black people) claimed Piccolo from the popular fantasy martial arts series as their own. And if you don’t believe me, then why is there a whole book written with that very title, hmm?
Whether it’s the original Blade (which is just as good as you remember it), Blade II, or Blade Trinity (which I called the “Godfather Part III of superhero movies”), you really can’t go wrong with the Daywalker.
Wesley Snipes, who was known for kicking ass (and always betting on black when it came to roulette) received the role of a lifetime when he got to play Blade. What always made the character so cool, though, was not only his fangs and guns, but his martial arts skills when it came to dispatching of vampires. Now, if we could only get that Mahershala Ali Blade reboot sometime soon, that’d be super…
Now, I love blaxploitation films, but do you want to know what I love even more? Films that parody blaxploitation films. And there’s probably no better one than the Michael Jai White-starring homage to blaxploitation flicks, Black Dynamite.
The film centers around a martial arts master (White) who seeks revenge against “The Man” after they kill his brother. The whole film goes from bizarre scene to bizarre scene, and every last line is delivered with a tongue squarely in the cheek.
But honestly, the martial arts in this movie is actually really awesome, which makes sense, because just like with The Last Dragon and its lead actor, Taimak, Black Dynamite’s lead actor is a legit martial artist, too!
The Man With The Iron Fists
The Man With the Iron Fists feels like a Wu-Tang Clan album put to film, which is understandable, because it was directed by Wu-Tang Clan leader, The RZA. The film is essentially about a blacksmith (played by The RZA) who makes weapons for other warriors, and they all come together to fight the scourge of the land. It stars a pre-megastar Dave Bautista, as well as Lucy Liu, and Russell Crowe.
The film is outrageous with its martial arts scenes, and if I’m being completely honest, it’s kind of everything I wanted from the Keanu Reeves movie, 47 Ronin, but way more interesting. There’s a direct-to-video sequel that isn’t that bad, either. But, I’m a little biased since I love anything connected to the Clan.
Lastly, I want to talk about the manga/anime, Afro Samurai. The story is sort of like Highlander, except it involves headbands. Yes, headbands. There is the number 1 headband, and the number 2 headband. The number 1 headband is said to have godlike powers, and the number 2 headband is fighting to claim the first headband. So, yeah. There can only be one.
Samuel L. Jackson, who loves anime, provided his voice to the series, and that alone is badass enough. The sick action is just the icing on the cake.
Bonus: The Wu–Tang Clan
Be honest. The first time you even heard of the Wu-Tang Clan movies was through the rap group. But, how could you not learn about the films when the Staten Island collective would often sample the movies and interlace the dialogue into their songs?
Hell, even their debut album, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), was a reference to the flick, The 36th Chamber of Shaolin. And one of their most famous songs, “Da Mystery of Chessboxin’” is the name of one of the Wu-Tang movies.
Hell, even some of the names from the members of the group, like Masta Killa, ‘Ol Dirty Bastard, Ghostface Killah, and of course, Method Man (who is probably the most recognizable member due to his work in movies and TV) had their names derived from the Wu-Tang movies. So, yeah. The dudes love their martial arts, and we love it vicariously through them.
The martial arts genre is just full of creativity, which might be why Black people gravitate toward it. It’s yet another way that we can express ourselves as a people.