Competing against larger-than-life superheroes in "Dark Phoenix," a giant sea monster in "Godzilla" and exciting alien species in "Men in Black: International, Puerto Rican actress Luna Lauren Velez says that she crossed over to the other side of the law in "Shaft" because she believes that the black action reboot will win over new fans this box office weekend.
“'Shaft' is an iconic movie franchise,” Velez told NBC News. “Not only is this an opportunity for me to be part of something that a lot of people grew up with, but also retell the story of ethnic communities that are typically underserved, and the heroes and antiheroes who make sure that people are protected.”
Best known for her roles as a cop in the serial killer drama "Dexter" and the police drama "New York Undercover," Velez says that she liked playing the money-laundering character Bennie Rodríguez because she was on the opposite side of the law. Also, her dad would get a kick out of it.
“My dad was a cop,” Velez said. “So I grew up with him being in that position of strength and authority. And in that way, he was a hero for my family and extended family, and for the community.”
The original "Shaft" premiered in 1971, and inspired a series of black action movies that were later grouped into a subgenre called “Blaxploitation”. And the 2019 reboot brings together three generations of the Shaft family — grandson John Shaft Jr. (Jessie T. Usher), father John Shaft (Samuel L. Jackson), and grandpa John Shaft Sr. (reprised by the original franchise star Richard Roundtree) — to solve a murder.
While Shaft is usually described as an antihero, Velez says that the black action movie franchise tells a deeper story about a private detective (Samuel L. Jackson) who is neither a hero nor a villain, neither completely good nor completely bad, but someone who is in between.
“The biggest takeaway for me isn’t that Shaft is an antihero, but family,” she said. “Family, at the end of the day is what the movie is really talking about. Protecting your own. And that’s the legacy that Shaft passes on to his son, and is supported by his grandfather.”
The Puerto Rican actress points out that deep down inside, Shaftwants to be a good father, a good son, and even a good husband. And this makes the character very human and relatable.
“No matter what your background is, Puerto Rican, African American, o lo que sea [or whatever], the theme of family really resonates with everyone because the idea of taking care of one another, of a community coming together, is important,” Velez said.