ABAR: THE FIRST BLACK SUPERMAN (a.k.a In Your Face) 1977 director: Frank Packard; starring Tobar Mayo, and a bunch of people you’ve never heard of.
Of the almost 300 movies that comprise the genre and the era of blaxploitation, there are quite a few made by filmmakers and actors who only turned out one or two films, before disappearing into total obscurity. Actors like Winston Thrash (SPEEDING UP TIME) and Loye Hawkins (THE GUY FROM HARLEM), as well as directors like Renee Martinez and Bill Brame are all but forgotten. The sad thing is that most of the films turned out by these people, which include such craptacular garbage as THE GUY FROM HARLEM (directed by Martinez) and MISS MELODY JONES (directed by Brame), don’t really warrant being remembered. Trust me — I’ve seen most of ‘em, and my life was not enriched. But every now and then one manages to shine through, and despite its rather questionable artistic merits or quality, keeps from being total garbage. In fact, sometimes these terrible films have a certain quality that makes them…well…so bad they are good (a deplorable cliché that I try to avoid as much as possible). Such is the case with ABAR: THE FIRST BLACK SUPERMAN.
You may think that BLACK PANTHER was the first film starring a black superhero. Or, if you have any sense of cinematic history, you might think SPAWN or BLADE were the first films to feature super-powered black men whoopin’ ass, or that METEOR MAN was cinema’s first black superhero. And in all those cases, you’d be wrong. The first black cinematic superhero would be none other than John Abar, the title character of this obscure film that is primarily known to only the most dedicated fans of blaxploitation.
When black research scientist Dr. Kincade (J. Walter Smith) moves his family to an all white neighborhood, the local honkys get their underwear all in a bunch. With a rabid mob of kill-crazy whiteys picketing on their front lawn, throwing garbage, and disemboweling their cat, the Kincades seem to be in dire circumstances. But all them honky muthas best look out, ‘cause ridin’ to the Kincade’s rescue, on a bunch of motorcycles, is the Black Front United (BFU), led by John Abar (Tobar Mayo). Before long, Abar is hired to protect the family full time; unfortunately he ain’t able to do shit when some honky sumbitch kills the Kincade’s young son. Now, it seems that Doc Kincade has been working on a serum that can make a man indestructible…just like the bullet-proof rabbits that he keeps in his basement laboratory. Yes, he has bullet-proof rabbits in his basement laboratory. It don’t take too much convincing for Abar to swig down the serum like a bottle of Thunderbird, thus turning him into a bullet-proof motherfucker, with heightened psychic abilities, and divine powers that he’s determined to use to rid the world of racist shit heads.
No, dear readers, I’m not making any of this up — what you just read is really the plot. ABAR, THE FIRST BLACK SUPERMAN is one of the most bizare flicks I’ve ever sat through (which is saying a lot). This is so off-the-wall you’d think Jamaa “Penitentiary” Fanaka directed it. We’re talking about a movie that’s so crazy you can’t believe someone actually thought this insanity up, or that it actually got it made. And even more unbelievable is the fact that you’re watching it.
Despite its freaky nature and an absurd premise, ABAR is fun, and equally political in what it’s trying to say. This little gem offers up a great concept, with some profound and provocative dialog. What’s really deep is the notion that it takes a black man with increased mental and physical strength, to battle the evil ways of white racists. Of course any profundity is marred by some of the worst (and I do mean worst) acting you will ever see. The performances here are more stiff than the erection of a teenage boy. And let’s not forget inept directing, lighting, editing, story structure, soundtrack, and every other technical and aesthetic element you can think of.
ABAR is sort of like a delicious cake, frosted with dog poop. But all these hindrances can’t keep the film down. There are even a few moments that make my cynical heart swell with pride, like when the BFU first ride up on their motorcycles, chase off the evil racists, and place an African flag on the Kincade’s front lawn. I cried like a baby. And I love the dream sequence when Kincade’s son dreams the family is back in the old west facing down a group of white vigilantes. Black cowboy Deadwood Dick (Abar, as the real life gunslinger Nat “Deadwood Dick” Love) rides to the rescue, and blasts the vile honky vermin away; declaring, “My friends call me Deadwood Dick; but my enemies call me Smart Black Nigger.”
Tobar Mayo as ABAR: THE FIRST BLACK SUPERMAN
From what I can tell, most of the people involved with this movie were never involved with another film — which should clue you in as to the quality of work involved (there were a few exceptions, like cinematographer Ron Garcia, who went on to work with David Lynch on TWIN PEAKS). Tobar Mayo, who is the king badass as Abar, is one of the more “notable” people involved in this flick. Mayo, who looks like the love child of Ji-Tu Cumbuka and Doug E. Fresh, and who may or may not be related to Whitman Mayo (Grady on SANFORD & SON), also appeared in Charles Barnett’s brilliant KILLER OF SHEEP, blaxploitation era garbage like TOUGH, BIG TIME, and BABY NEEDS A NEW PAIR OF SHOES (a.k.a. NIGGER RICH, a.k.a. JIVE TURKEY), as well as a handful of television shows, including THE JEFFERSONS and MANNIX. He was also in the softcore film THE MISLAYED GENIE, as well as THE DEVIL’S GARDEN, directed by Bob Chinn, who is best known for his work in porno, and as creator of the Johnny Wadd series starring John Holmes.
Frank Packard, the director of this bizarre film, acted in a handful of movies in the early 1970s, but ABAR was the only thing he ever directed. Likewise, this is the only credit for writer/producer James Smalley. Allegedly, Smalley was a pimp, who financed ABAR with money he earned from turning out prostitutes. The production was plagued with problems, including ineptitude, and its release was delayed. Initially, American International Pictures was going to distribute it, and produce a sequel, but that deal fell through, resulting in a somewhat limited theatrical release on the grindhouse and drive-in circuit, followed by a release on home video under the title IN YOUR FACE.
Check out this interview with Tobar Mayo on the podcast The Projection Booth.