Atlanta has a starring role in modern version of ‘Superfly’

Atlanta may indeed be the “Hollywood of the South,” but rarely does the city show up in the film as a viable star. For instance, “Black Panther,” one of the year’s biggest which was shot here, had no storyline tying the fictional Wakanda to Atlanta but instead served as a fill-in for Oakland, New York and London. That’s not the case with “Superfly,” the 2018 update of the 1972 blaxploitation classic, where Atlanta is front and center, supplanting Harlem from the original.

“I think Atlanta is the new hub,” offered the film’s star Trevor Jackson during a February set visit in Norcross at a location “Black Panther” also used. “New York in the ‘70s was kind of similar. Everybody’s coming here. It’s the new exciting place to be.”

In the “Superfly” helmed by well-known music video director Director X, Jackson stars as a much younger, Atlanta native version of Ron O’Neal’s iconic character, Priest. Thanks to his mentor Scatter, played by Michael Kenneth Williams (“The Wire”), he’s amassed a quiet drug empire. Moving in silence, however, doesn’t extend a drug dealer’s expiration date, so Priest plots an ambitious exit plan. “Straight Outta Compton” standout Jason Mitchell plays Priest’s best friend and partner Eddie.

Because music crafted by the legendary, one-time Atlanta resident Curtis Mayfield was at the center of the original film, music is also a driving force for this reimagined version, which opens Wednesday. “Music was a big part, a character if you will, in the original “Superfly,” shared Williams on set in February. “I think that Atlanta is a great city because of the amount of music that’s coming out of the city.”

With that in mind, Director X tapped chart-topping rapper Future to handle the film’s sound. Speaking to a crowd at Center Stage Friday for a “Superfly” conversation and concert sponsored by Sony Pictures and Revolt, the music cable network owned by Sean “Diddy” Combs, on a panel alongside Jackson and Mitchell, X explained the process that made Future’s inclusion essential.

“Priest in the original is not a nice guy,” X noted, highlighting a scene where Priest tells a man who owes him money that he will pimp his wife as a prostitute that night if he doesn’t get it. That ruthlessness, said X, greatly determined Mayfield’s role in the film.

“With all that madness in the movie, (Mayfield) said, ‘I need to be the balancing voice’ and he wanted to be what they call the Greek chorus and really have a commentary on what was going on in the film,” X explained.

“So that is what I decided we needed. We needed a singular vision. We needed an artistic vision for the music that could come in and be the commentary for the film. At the same time, because this is entertainment, we needed a big star.” The opportunity to add Future, one of the film’s producers who helms the soundtrack, came when X filmed a Gap commercial with the rapper and Cher.

Future is not the only Atlanta rapper fueling "Superfly." Underground rap impresario Big Bank Black is Q, leader of Priest's rival drug crew, Snow Patrol, while Outkast's Big Boi plays Mayor Atkins. Rick Ross, a longtime resident, makes a cameo. His mansion, Evander Holyfield's former home, plays an even bigger role. It is so prominently featured in the film that Architectural Digest wrote about it. And the city, mostly from I-75/85 to Midtown and West End, is showcased throughout.

Moments before the Center Stage event also featuring performances by Atlanta artists Yung Bans, Nick Grant and Kodie Shane, Mitchell offered his reason why Atlanta and “Superfly” fit. “Atlanta is ‘superfly’ because ‘superfly’ is a state of mind.”