Thirty five years ago, author Sam Greenlee’s controversial film, “The Spook Who Sat By the Door,” was released and subsequently buried for being a little too imaginative. When a senator wants to appeal to his Black constituents, he seeks to integrate the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). A group of 20 Black men go through the intense training, but only one, mild-mannered Dan Freeman (Laurence Cook), passes to become the first Black agent. To his peers, Freeman appears to be an Uncle Tom, but he has a plan – to begin a new Black revolution.
After serving for five years, Freeman leaves the agency to become a social worker at his home in Chicago. By day, he’s a successful social worker, but on his free time he begins training his old gang in the CIA’s tactics of guerrilla and tactical warfare.
The film’s politics are very pro-black and even in present day America, the story resonates as something more than a fleeting fantasy. Released during the period of aggressive, angry black superheroes during the Blaxploitation period, the film is closer to the vein of Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song than ”Shaft” or “Superfly.” It makes perfect sense that a film that had such a strong message that could have rallied Black people to exercise more thought over their community’s conditions became nothing more than cinematic footnote and urban legend.
Greelee’s message that Black people were thought to be so intellectually inferior that a guerrilla organization could NEVER be assembled by a person of color. Sadly, this film’s message was allowed to become extinguished so much to point that if not for a single negative locked away in a vault, this film would be lost forever never to be enjoyed or viewed by subsequent generations.
Directed by veteran actor Ivan Dixon and featuring a score of its time by Herbie Hancock, “The Spook Who Sat by the Door” is a fantastic example of what happens when brothers are allowed to “work it out” for themselves.