The Politics of Shaft: Positioning a Popular Cultural Icon in 1971, 2000 and 2019

Magnus Dahlstedt*, Peter Ehrström

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


This article focuses on how popular culture relates to both society and politics, as a barometer of the present. In a sense, popular culture both mirrors and articulates specific ways of understanding society, the present. In this article, we will investigate one specific expression of popular culture, the African American action movie hero Shaft, and how this character appears in different shapes, in different times and contexts. The aim of the article is to examine how the character Shaft appears in three movies, from 1971, 2000 and 2019. This examination draws attention to how three different shapes of Shaft materialise, with different values attributed to the character of Shaft. Specific focus is put on the socio-political expressions of the day and the localities where the movies unfold. The analysis highlights three different versions of Shaft, each formed in accordance with the socio-political expressions of the day and manifesting different specific historical contexts. The first version actively portrays the political struggles carried out in the civil rights era, not least concerning race inequalities. On the contrary, the second version is significantly less actively engaged in the political struggles of the day. However, the movie still reflects class-based injustices in an individualised neoliberal era. The third version, in turn, clearly neglects the current social struggles. By celebrating family values, by neglecting existing inequalities as well as the possibilities of collective actions targeting these inequalities, the movie makes a post-political statement, echoing a long-established myth of the “American dream”, with hopes of intergenerational social mobility.
Original languageEnglish
Article number7
Pages (from-to)419-438
Number of pages20
JournalOpen Journal of Political Science
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 8 Jul 2021
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • Shaft
  • Politics of Representation
  • Popular Culture
  • Positioning
  • Race
  • Neoliberalism


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