As many celebrities and fans express their condolences and remembrances of veteran and legendary actor Richard Roundtree, who recently died of pancreatic cancer, others recall that his role as Detective John Shaft in the 1970s Black-themed action film, “Shaft,” caused many of us in the Black community to almost lose our minds.

The Shaft movie hit the big screen during my early teens. I was able to see the rated R film because of an older acquaintance who accompanied me and my sister.

We were mesmerized by the predominantly Black cast and John Shaft, a no-nonsense cool dude dressed in a full-length double-breasted leather trench coat with the collar turned up. His trimmed Afro and macho mustache, along with his muscular physique, complemented his handsome appearance.

In the opening scene, when Shaft exited the New York subway jaywalking through moving traffic, he did so with purpose and determination, daring any car to hit him. He exuded a gentleman’s air that looked like he could move the wind in any direction with the wave of his hands.

Shaft courageously went up against bad guys and the local mafia. He didn’t defer to anyone whether or not that person was Black or White. And, he played by his own rules even when working with law enforcement.

One of the White police officers who always tried to put Shaft in his place said to his captain, “That boy gotta lot of mouth on him.” The captain responded, “He’s enough man to back it up,” putting the officer in his place.

The jazzy soul soundtrack by the late singer and songwriter Isaac Hayes Jr. set the tone for the movie, which wasn’t laced with a lot of profanity. The two intimate scenes weren’t overly graphic, as prevalent in today’s films, rarely leaving anything open to the imagination.

Shaft’s woman’s outward beauty and confident femininity complemented his masculine energy with respect rather than attempting to dominate it. One of the soundtrack lyrics said, “He’s a complicated man, but no one understands him but his woman.”

When “Shaft” premiered, the Black community needed to see the presence of Black masculinity to its fullest portrayed. For one, the 1960s were pivotal moments in Black culture. The assassinations of Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and other Black men who had been killed fighting for civil rights hurled the community into another period of turmoil and reflection.

R&B singer James Brown’s “Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud” lyrics elevated Black empowerment, Black pride, and self-reliance. Nina Simone’s “Young, Gifted and Black” and Gill Scott-Heron’s “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” reverberated across the airways in the 1970s.

A song from the Shaft soundtrack included lyrics about persistent unemployment, rising crime rates and apartment rent, evictions, substandard housing, drugs, and poverty. Sounds like 2023.

Yep, the Black community needed to see a lead Black man who wasn’t cast as cowardly, clownish, demonized, and emasculated — commonly was seen in American feature films for decades. Or esteemed actors like Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte, who played their roles with dignity and excellence, yet they were still made palatable enough to appease White audiences.

Black people knew Black men from all backgrounds who didn’t tolerate disrespect. As well as those who provided for their families, respected and loved their spouses even though deeply flawed Black people existed as in all communities.

Aside from Shaft’s toughness, he displayed caring qualities. He reacted to an assignment requiring him to rescue the teen daughter of a Black man he despised for destroying the community with prostitution, drugs, and loan shark activities.

He gave money to a hungry kid to get something to eat. And when he broke down the door of an elderly woman’s apartment while chasing a mafia guy, he apologized, giving her money for the damages.

At the end of the movie, John Shaft won, strutting to the “Shaft” theme song, proclaiming “That Cat Shaft Is A Bad Mutha, Shutcho Mouth!!”

It’s only fitting during National Breast Cancer Awareness Month to also mention that Roundtree was a spokesperson and advocate for breast cancer.

In a 2007 column, I wrote that Roundtree had been diagnosed with breast cancer at age 51. He discovered a lump in his right breast and underwent treatment and a modified radical mastectomy. However, he kept his cancer a secret for years until he blurted it out in a spirited discussion about screenings.

He admitted that keeping his cancer a secret was a mistake.

“Men and their wives came from everywhere telling me how I helped them come out of denial, saved their lives,” Roundtree said. “The reaction told me this was something I needed to talk about.”

The Susan G. Komen Foundation stated that from 2015 to 2019, the breast cancer incidence rate in men and women increased slightly (by less than 1 percent per year). The most common warning sign of breast cancer in men, says the foundation, is a painless lump or thickening in the breast or chest area.

It’s probably difficult for men to reveal that they might have breast cancer because of the type of cancer and all of its pink ribbons and pink paraphernalia. However, a magazine article about Roundtree described him as a man leaving his macho mark on a pink-ribbon world and I’ll add, also on the film industry as John Shaft.

— The Vacaville author is a social issues advocate. 2022 Women of the Year Congressional Award Recipient. E-mail: