In 1969, NFL star Fred Williamson — called the Hammer for his defensive moves — left football for Hollywood and became a head-busting king of '70s blaxploitation flicks. Today, Williamson, 65, is an independent producer-director, ruler of his own direct-to-video movie empire and, he says, still the man. On Jan. 20, MGM released a couple of his early masterpieces, Hammer and Hell up in Harlem, along with several other blaxploitation films, on DVD. Here, TV Guide Online tries to nail Williamson — but the Hammer hits back.
TV Guide Online: You don't like the term blaxploitation?
Fred Williamson: I could never understand [it.] At the time I was making my films, Burt Reynolds and Clint Eastwood were making theirs. No one dubbed them whitexploitation. So what did it mean? Who was being exploited? All the black actors were being paid more money than they ever were before, playing characters we respected. Audiences loved them. Everybody was having fun.
TVGO: Why were these movies so revolutionary?
Williamson: You have to understand the times. They were siccing dogs on people, hosing them down. What we needed were black heroes who stood up to fight the system to appease what was happening to black audiences in reality.
TVGO: How do they hold up three decades later?
Williamson: The hip-hop community picked up on the [James Brown] music from Black Caesar and its sequel, Hell up in Harlem, and then got interested in the films. I get major respect.
TVGO: Speaking of rappers, your movies were criticized for their violence, just the way gangsta rap is today.
Williamson: Clint would make a film and kill six people in the credits. We were emulating what we saw!
TVGO: But your characters wore great clothes. You all were fly.
Williamson: I wore Dobbs hats in Black Caesar and those hats took off! So did long leather coats.
TVGO: You've been making your own action movies — especially for the overseas market — for years. Why?
Williamson: I wanted to continue to be the hero. Instead of having me killed in a movie and letting Schwarzenegger avenge my death, my purpose was to kill [him] and avenge his death.
TVGO: Are you a bigger star abroad?
Williamson: Yes. They don't pigeonhole any films that I make or market them to the black community. If I make an action film, it plays where action films play. It plays to the action market and the action market is of all colors.
TVGO: What country are your films biggest in?
Williamson: Italy, Germany, Sweden, the Far East, the Middle East. The Middle East likes the fact that it's a black guy winning the fights.
TVGO: You're in the upcoming Starsky and Hutch movie with Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson.
Williamson: Yeah, I play Captain Dobie, who tries to keep those two maniacs in line.
TVGO: Any new Williamson productions?
Williamson: I just finished directing a film called Vegas Vamps. [It's about] killing vampires in Las Vegas. It's a campy action film.
TVGO: Would you be upset if Hollywood did a Black Caesar remake and cast a young actor instead, like in Shaft, where Richard Roundtree was relegated to Uncle John?
Williamson: I wouldn't be Uncle Caesar, for damn sure. I'm the man. I was the man playing football and that's why they called me the Hammer. I kick ass and take names on screen.