This weekend will see the release of Shaft, the third film named Shaft in the Shaft series, reuniting three generations of Shafts. The Shafts are played by Richard Roundtree, Samuel L. Jackson, and Jessie Usher. Jackson’s Shaft is the nephew of Roundtree’s Shaft, and Usher is the son of Jackson’s Shaft. Glad we could clear that up. It’s not tough to understand.
What was tough for me to understand, however, is this promotional tweet for Shaft regarding the “Shaft son.”
There’s the “me” and she is looking at “shaft son.” Interesting. What I think confused me is that I was not sure what sentiment this image is meant to convey. She’s attracted to “shaft son,” I think? Yet the film’s premise (a comedic riff on the Shafts) makes it clear that “shaft son” is not the cool Shaft in the family. Why is she looking at “shaft son” that way?
This image has haunted me for two months, and obviously I was not the only one trying to parse it.
It would be easy to chalk this tweet up to the familiar strain of “how do you do fellow kids?” pandering that has taken over modern digital marketing. If you want the hip youth to see your movie, the conventional wisdom goes, you have to speak meme. Animosity toward hipster millennials is well-represented on the @SHAFTmovie account, where Samuel L. Jackson promises, “I’ll avocado toast your punk a?s.” Great stuff. It would be easy and entirely justifiable to chalk the “shaft son” meme up to a familiar type of clumsy marketing.
I dug a little deeper though, and further investigation has revealed that the real reason I could not instinctively comprehend “shaft son” is because I suffer from an incurable condition known as debilitating whiteness. The tweet’s caption contains the hashtag #somebodyson, and a quick bit of Googling makes clear that the “shaft son” tweet is a reference to a social media trend spurred by an Instagram account, @MeAndSomebodySon_. In an April piece, Bossip proclaimed “This Instagram Page Celebrating Sweet Black Love Is Melananily Melting Instagram.” Photos of couples posted on the account, which has more than 60,000 followers, adhere to the same format as the Shaft post.
Over DM, @meandsomebodyson_ told me, “I started the page in February of 2019 after being inspired by a similar page that was dedicated to men [@meandsomebodydaughter] but I felt there was a void and a need for a women’s perspective.”
“I love love and want to inspire,” she explained. “My focus is Black Love to shift the narrative between Black men and women providing representation and showcasing that Black Love definitely exists and in many forms.”
As an expert, I asked her to help explain what is happening in the “shaft son” image, which is complicated by the presence of Samuel L. Jackson, who is unlabeled but, according to Shaft canon, can be considered the “shaft nephew” or “shaft father,” depending on the Shaft. “My initial reaction is that she is impressed by Shaft’s son. She thinks he looks good and possibly has something to offer,” she concluded. “She looks intrigued but Shaft’s son looks a little timid. Shaft looks like he is a wingman.”
As to whether this meme was any good, @meandsomebodyson_ was diplomatic because she had not seen the movie. “I think it was used correctly but not necessarily effectively.” This probably wasn’t the meme the Shaft account wanted to become, but when it comes to marketing, sometimes any chatter is good chatter.
Case closed. In summation: