Staff Pick: Michael Schultz retrospective at the Wexner Center

The criminally overlooked African American director will get his due locally in the coming days via Wex screenings and a conversation with Wil Haygood, author of new book 'Colorization'

Joel Oliphint
Columbus Alive
Richard Pryor in the 1977 Michael Schultz film "Which Way is Up?"

“Before Spike Lee or John Singleton, there was Michael Schultz,” writes film scholar Keith Corson in a recent essay for the Wexner Center, going on to explain that Schultz is “credited on more theatrically released Hollywood features than any other African American director of the 20th century.” 

Schultz’s credits also include countless TV shows, including “Blackish,” “Arrow,” “Black Lightning,” “All American” and his very first TV job, “The Rockford Files.” And yet somehow Schultz flies under the radar. “Some might not recognize his name, but he directed such seminal films as 'Cooley High,' 'Car Wash' and 'Krush Groove,' and his prolific career continues,” said Dave Filipi, director of film and video at the Wexner Center. “Given his unique place in film history, his body of work demands to be better known.”

This week, the Wex is doing its part to give Schultz his due with film screenings and a conversation with the director, all in conjunction with a series of events featuring Columbus native Wil Haygood, author of the new book Colorization: One Hundred Years of Black Films in a White World.

More:Wil Haygood hopes to inspire next generation with new book on Black films

Tonight (Thursday, Oct. 14) at 7 p.m., the Wex will screen Schultz's 1985 cult classic, "The Last Dragon," which the arts center summarizes this way: "Set in New York City, 'The Last Dragon' follows a young martial arts expert nicknamed 'Bruce' Leroy Green (Taimak) who seeks a master that can help him attain 'The Glow,' the final stage in his training. Meanwhile Leroy must fend off challenges from his rival, 'The Shogun of Harlem,' and rescue a beautiful singer (Vanity) from an evil video game producer."

On Friday, Oct. 15, fans of Schultz can watch his 1976 film "Car Wash," introduced by Columbus writer, poet and recent "Genius grant" recipient Hanif Abdurraqib. On Saturday, Oct. 16, the Wex will screen the 1977 film "Which Way is Up?" starring Richard Pryor. 

Finally, on Monday, Oct. 18, Schultz will join Haygood for a virtual conversation about the director's career. In a recent Alive interview, Haygood spoke about the personal importance of Schultz's films. "White America had ‘American Graffiti’, a [1973] film about high school joys with fun, slapstick humor. When it comes to Black America, we finally got a film like Michael Schultz's ‘Cooley High’ [in 1975]," Haygood said. "Before ‘Cooley High,’ there really hadn't been a film on the 60-foot movie screen about Black life in high school. It was so far removed from white America, that the forces in Hollywood thought that there was not even a need to make a movie like that.”

Morton also writes about the significance of "Cooley High." "[John] Singleton’s coming-of-age story 'Boyz n the Hood' clearly evokes Schultz’s 1975 breakout 'Cooley High,'" Morton argues in his essay. "While Singleton has admitted that he used 'Cooley High' as the model for 'Boyz n the Hood,' the homage largely escaped the watchful eye of film critics and Academy members heaping praise on Singleton in 1991."