18 July 2008 | frankenbenz
I'm still waiting for a great film about Black revolutionaries
I'll always remember Ivan Dixon as "Kinch" on my favorite after school TV show growing up: Hogan's Heroes. Despite the show making Dixon a household name, he walked away from it (the only cast original cast member to do so), a decision motivated by his lack of creative fulfillment. In Dixon's mind, playing a token black on a silly sit-com was wasted time, an unwelcome departure from his serious work as a stage actor and second fiddle to Sydney Poitier in films like Porgy and Bess and A Raisin in the Sun. In addition to Dixon's creative integrity he also had ambition, a trait white Hollywood afforded very few blacks.
With Gordon Park's blaxploitation masterpiece Shaft tearing up the box-office, Dixon seized the opportunity to direct by helming Trouble Man, itself a prototypical blaxploitation pic. A year later Dixon used his momentum to get back behind the lens to direct Sam Greenlee's underground hit novel The Spook Who Sat by the Door. With Spook, Dixon was able to break the chains shackling Blacks within Hollywood by bringing to the silver screen the politically taboo story of a Black revolutionary declaring war on White society. Lawrence Cook is perfectly cast as the cunning Dan Freeman who infiltrates the White power structure by gaining entrance to the CIA before quitting to form a inner-city Chicago leftist group of revolutionaries. If art imitates life, then you have to consider what it took for a Black director to not only get a film like TSWSBTD financed, but to get White Hollywood to distribute it. While the film itself is sloppily and artlessly made, it remains important because of both its content and the fact that a film with such an anti-social message would even see the light of day during the political climate of the conservative Nixon administration. If he wasn't already on it, it's a safe bet Dixon was on Nixon's black list after Spook was released.
Dixon's career as a feature film director practically stalled after Spook, but he went on to direct some of the best TV in the 70's and 80's, most notably on The Rockford Files and Magnum, P.I.. One could speculate his opportunities to continue directing controversial feature films was curtailed by the forces that be --which would make for an interesting theory-- but after seeing Spook it is safe to say Dixon's talents were simply better suited for the small screen. Nevertheless, The Spook Who Sat by the Door is required viewing for every student of African-American Cinema.