The Neighborhood Theatre in NoDa today will offer a free screening of the 1970s classic “The Spook Who Sat by the Door,” one of the most important subversive films of its time.

The screening is part of the Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County’s Black History Month programming.

Based on the novel by Sam Greenlee, the film tells the story of Dan Freeman, who is hired by the Central Intelligence Agency as a token black operative.

Freeman grows frustrated and leaves the spy agency, returning to his native Chicago to work as a social worker with local gangs. By night, however, he has a different agenda.

Using the skills he honed as a CIA spook, he recruits gang members and trains them in guerilla warfare. They soon launch a revolution against the United States.

Critically acclaimed when released, the movie was later suppressed and is now a cult classic. It was named one of the 50 Most Influential Black Films (by the authors S. Torriano Berry and Venise T. Berry, in their book of the same title), according to the Neighborhood Theatre’s website.

Ivan Dixon, best known for his role in the 1960s sitcom Hogan’s Heroes, directed the film. Dixon died in March 2008. His daughter, Doris Nomathande Dixon, lives in Charlotte and will take part in a Q&A after the screening. stumbled across the film online while researching this piece. And though we certainly don’t hold ourselves up as movie critics, 1 hour, 44 minutes and 31 seconds later we were still watching.

“Spook” is a mix of “Shaft” and some of the lesser-quality Blaxploitation films of the 1970s. Its plot is childishly simple — and at times laughable — when viewed through contemporary eyes: The Man (aka white folks) is always evil and just a wee bit dumb; black men are strong, brave and intellectually superior; and women, black or white, are there mainly for men’s amusement.

Forget complex motives and character development; this movie has none of that. It comes at you like a locomotive — what you see is what you get. But isn’t that really what a black 1970s film should be?

Dig it?

Being huge fans of the genre, we give “Spook” four stars.


Where: Neighborhood Theatre, 511 East 36th St (NoDa arts district)

Date: Monday, Feb. 9, 2008

Time: 7 p.m.

Cost: Free


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