Watching it is like finding money in the pocket of a coat that you haven’t worn in years.
"You know what this black woman told me today?" Yaphet Kotto said. "She said my movie was the first time in the movies she ever saw a black man take a black woman out on a date. Dinner, romantic music, the whole thing."
Kotto smiled, "You know what it's usually like," he said. "It's just rape her, beat her up, take her into the back room. The so-called black movies today are mostly junk and rip-offs. They pander to violence, sex and obscenity and say they're telling it like it is. I can't dig that. A movie like 'Sweet Sweetback' degrades black women."
Kotto was defending his new film, "The Limit," which he produced, directed and stars in, and which opened Friday at the Woods. "It is pure entertainment," he said. "I got a lot of criticism from my friends who said I had to put a message in. I have a beach scene, and they said, man, you can't have a beach scene. It's not relevant. What the hell is this? Are they telling me black people don't go to the BEACH?"
The movie stars Kotto as a California highway patrolman who gets mixed up with a motorcycle gang. There's a lot of action, including a spectacular motorcycle chase scene, and when Kotto describes it he shakes his head in wonderment:
"We had this great stunt driver," he said. "Tony Brubaker. He's coming down the hill and this yellow car comes out of nowhere. You know what Tony does? He sees it coming and he doesn't stop! He lands right on top of it. It's in the film. Of course we paid for the cat's car, and he just stayed there all day watching us shoot - he and his wife and kid and his yellow car."
At 32, Kotto is one of the best of the young black actors. He stepped into James Earl Jones' Broadway lead in "The Great White Hope" for eight months; he's done a lot of television, and he's made such movies as "Man and Boy," "Five Card Stud" and "The Liberation of L.B. Jones."
He decided at 16 that he wanted to be an actor. "Right away I knew I would have to learn something about diction and speech," he said. "I spoke in this very hip Harlem way . . . so I tape-recorded all of John Cameron Swayze's newscasts and imitated them." Within two years, he had won the lead in a Boston production of "Othello," the first of some 70 stage roles.
What he plans to do next is a remake of "Of Mice and Men."
"I'm doing it with Sammy Davis Jr.," he said. "We're still debating over who will be Lon Chaney Jr. and who will be Burgess Meredith," he grinned. "And you know what else I'd like to be in a remake of? 'East of Eden.' Can you dig THAT black, man?"