Spoiler warning ahead for Shaft.
In the history of film at large, as well as the Shaft franchise in particular, female characters used to play a more submissive and supporting role to their male counterparts. But as times have changed, those characters have become more important and given more agency in the world of film, and as such the Shaft reboot has followed suit by giving two of the Shaft men effective, independent foils.
Those foiling influences come in the form of both Alexandra Shipp’s Sasha and Regina Hall’s Maya. That dynamic duo puts two generations of Shaft protagonists in their place, while also counseling and aiding their male scene partners. And during CinemaBlend’s rounds at the press day for Shaft, I got to hear from Shipp herself about just how amazing it was to be part of the process of bringing those women to the screen. She said:
We are tough, we’re tough as nails. I think that’s what’s so beautiful and what drew us to these characters was how tough and strong and powerful they were, you know? It’s like, they’re not gonna take any shaft from Shaft. Shaft can’t shaft them.
Previously, we’ve discussed how Maya was a force to be reckoned with in Shaft, as during our set visit we found out that Regina Hall’s character was basically John Shaft II’s Kryptonite. While past Shaft films may have seen the protagonist smooth talk his way out of trouble, Maya and John Shaft II’s relationship is much more level. In fact, it’s Maya’s own choices that split the family apart, because she’d rather be separated from the man she loves than let their son die in dangerous circumstances.
And even during the film’s course of events, there’s the running thread of Samuel L. Jackson’s second generation of Shaft possibly wanting to get revenge on the local crime lord that spurs this separation. Not because of some macho grudge, but because he’s lost his wife and son to his life of danger and crime fighting.
But with Sasha and J.J., there’s a different energy at work, and one that’s not typical of a Shaft film. Sasha is a shoulder for J.J. to lean on while trying to solve the murder of their friend Karim. While J.J. naturally has a crush on his childhood friend, he’s not the usual self-assured Shaft man that his father or his grandfather always have been.
On top of that, Alexandra Shipp’s character isn’t some pushover who’ll settle for J.J. merely becoming the next generation of Shaft. She’s taken a bit by his puppy dog sort of charm, and feels even more of an affinity for him as he comes into his own through action violence, but never is she any weaker for falling for him.
Neither scenario between these independent women and the Shaft family are taken for granted by the film. Penned by Black-ish’s Kenya Barris and co-writer Alex Barnow, and directed by blockbuster filmmaker Tim Story; and they certainly aren’t forgotten by the talented women that play major roles in this film. What’s even better is that while Alexandra Shipp explained just how the female characters in Shaft are so badass, Regina Hall snuck in with some jokes to make the moment even better. Take a look at Alexandra and Regina’s rapport below, in the clip from their interview.
While the future of Shaft as a franchise will have to be determined by how this weekend’s box office results treat the film, there’s always room for thinking about the future. And if Regina Hall and Alexandra Shipp had their say, Maya and Sasha would get to raise some hell for themselves; complete with glitter grenades and machine guns at the ready. If that’s not a reason to hope for an extended Shaft universe, then quite frankly, what is?