When TCM Underground announced they were running something called ABAR THE BLACK SUPERMAN last Saturday at 2AM, I just had to record it. For one thing, I’d never heard of it, and for another, it sounded so cheesy I knew I had to take a look. So last night (after watching the mighty New England Patriots vanquish their arch-enemies, the hated New York Giants), I settled into my recliner and pressed play. What I got was unexpected, and though the film is cheaply shot, with high-school level acting and no technical skills behind the cameras, it’s a game attempt at trying something different within the confines of the Blaxploitaion genre.
Dr. Ken Kinkade, a researcher working on a top secret grant project, and his family move into an affluent white neighborhood, and immediately become victims of white bigotry. The neighbors protest outside the Kinkade’s home, hurling garbage onto the lawn, until members of the BFU (Black Front of Unity) arrive. Led by radical John Abar, the BFU defend the Kinkades, but urge them to return to the ghetto and help their own people. Dr. Kinkade’s grateful for the assistance, but refuses to leave, despite having the family’s pet cat hung at his front door, and a coffin placed on his sidewalk.
When Kinkade’s son is run down in the street by a hostile white, he reveals to Abar the secret of his experiments. He’s developed a formula to create superhumans, ala Captain America. Abar drinks the potion and is transformed. But not in the way you’d think, and here’s where the film loses steam. Instead of becoming a superhero battling the racists, he’s given “psychic powers” that turn cops against each other, winos into milk drinkers, a Cadillac into a horse-and-buggy, and street corner hoods into college grads. Abar can also control the elements, and causes a series of plagues to befall the white folks (hurricane winds, rats, snakes). The whites finally learn to accept their black neighbors, and Abar walks off into the sunset as the credits roll with Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dram” speech playing him out.
The producer, writer, and director were attempting a “message” film, and maybe with a proper budget they would’ve succeeded. As it stands, ABAR will go down as a gallant try. Have race relations improved since this late 70’s movie? I’ll leave that to the news channel pundits to debate. This is a film blog, not a political soapbox, so I’ll just say that if you’re looking for something out of the ordinary then catch ABAR next time it’s shown. It’s a thought provoking film mixing social commentary and sci-fi that is worth viewing despite the rock-bottom production values and misleading title. You may be pleasantly surprised.