The long-lost, independently financed Black urban crime/action film SOLOMON KING (1974) from director/actor/producer/writer Sal Watts is set for restoration and re-release in 2022 from distributor Deaf Crocodile Films. SOLOMON KING was shot in Oakland, CA in 1973 with a cast of mostly non-professional actors, a stunning soul-funk soundtrack, and incredible clothes from Watts’s own Mr. Sal’s Fashion stores. Restored with the cooperation of the filmmaker’s widow, Belinda Burton-Watts (who appears in the film), and utilizing one of the only surviving complete prints of the film from the UCLA Film & TV Archive alongside the original soundtrack elements (which had been stored in Burton-Watts’s closet for several decades), SOLOMON KING will be re-released theatrically and on Blu-ray and Digital following its festival run later in 2022.
“I had been praying that my husband’s accomplishments would not go unnoticed, but as the saying goes justice delayed is not always justice denied,” comments Belinda Burton-Watts. “Sal would be so pleased that Dennis Bartok and Craig Rogers of Deaf Crocodile reached out to his family and explored the possibility of restoring this piece of Black history. This film will evoke a nostalgic view of life in the 1970s when so much was happening in the Black community and the world. Oakland, California is no stranger to its share of controversy and unrest. Sal was an extraordinary man who remained humble throughout his life and just wanted equality for all. He loved all people and wanted to live in a world that treated people fairly. He would be grateful to know that his film will see the light of day once more. Much like Langston Hughes’ poem “Harlem” where he asks, “What happens to a dream deferred?”, we will have an opportunity to see just that. I choose to believe that like a mustard seed, the dream grows and grows. Through Dennis’ and Craig’s efforts, researching the possibilities of restoring this obscure film and coming up with a solution, another generation of young people will be able to see one Black man’s vision. My husband’s vision. I am convinced that Dennis and Craig reaching out to me was a case of divine intervention.”
SOLOMON KING (1974, Sal/Wa Prod., 85 min. Dirs. Jack Bomay and Sal Watts). With “Little Jamie” Watts, Claudio Russo, Samaki Bennett, Tito Fuentes, Belinda B. Burton. “Don’t you suckers know the days of Uncle Remus and Old Black Joe are gone?,” barks ex-CIA operative /ex-Green Beret/nightclub owner Solomon King to a group of Black gang members at the Sugar Hill Club in actor/director/writer Sal Watts’s long-lost Black urban crime/action film. In the vein of SHAFT meets THE LIQUIDATOR, the film stars Watts as an African American version of James Bond/Matt Helm as he seduces beautiful nightclub singers and beats up the henchmen of an oil-obsessed Middle Eastern ruler. Produced on a shoestring budget and shot on location in many of the businesses Watts owned, the film is a priceless document of early 70s Black culture, music, and fashion in Oakland— and a powerful metaphor for Black empowerment, with Solomon turning the tables on every duplicitous white character he encounters. “You can’t do a damn thing without the motherf**in’ white man calling the shots,” he observes at one point.
Sal Watts’s personal story is even more fascinating: emerging from grinding poverty and racism in Mississippi, he went on to become a filmmaker and actor, record label owner, host of Oakland TV dance program “Soul Is,” fashion store owner, and restaurateur in the 1970s, before serving time in federal prison on tax charges and dying in 2003.
“SOLOMON KING, like Rudy Ray Moore’s DOLEMITE (1975), is both a wildly entertaining, funk-fueled action/fantasy— and a prime example of an independent Black filmmaker trying to break into the commercial film market his own way,” says Deaf Crocodile Co-Founder and Head of Acquisitions & Distribution Dennis Bartok. “Connecting with Belinda and hearing her memories about the making of the film, and her and Sal’s careers, has been truly amazing. Sal worked in so many different arenas in the 1970s— film, music, fashion, TV, and for us, telling his story is as important as restoring the film itself.”
“This journey started with Dennis’s purchase of the soundtrack LP. He shared it with me, and from the first funky notes I was immediately sold,” adds Deaf Crocodile Co-Founder and Head of Post-Production & Restoration Craig Rogers. “We then had to track down the film elements. The more we dug, the more we discovered the absolutely astonishing story of Sal Watts. Belinda has been an absolute treasure. We’re so proud to be helping to bring her late husband’s film back from obscurity. The film, and Sal, deserve to be celebrated. I hope this restoration serves as a jumping-off point for people to explore what was such an incredible period of 1970s Oakland culture and history.”
The new restoration of SOLOMON KING will debut on the festival circuit in 2022, with details and theatrical engagements to be announced in the new year.