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Last Updated: Wednesday, 8 March 2006, 08:23 GMT
Shaft director Parks dies at 93
Gordon Parks
Gordon Parks photographed Malcolm X and the Black Panthers
Photographer and director Gordon Parks, who made the film Shaft, has died at the age of 93.

Parks, who worked for the US magazine Life for 20 years before working in film, is credited as being Hollywood's first black director.

Released in 1971, Shaft saw Richard Roundtree play black detective John Shaft. The film was remade in 2000 with Samuel L Jackson in the lead role.

Parks' other films include The Learning Tree and The Super Cops.

Parks, who also wrote fiction and was an accomplished composer, died at his home in New York, said his nephew Charles Parks.

During his time as Life's first black photographer, he covered everything from fashion to sport but was best known for his photo essays on poverty and the civil rights movement.

Film preserved

Born in Kansas, Parks had been orphaned by 15 and was homeless.

He later said: "I think it was a natural follow from that that I should use my camera to speak for people who are unable to speak for themselves."

As an African-American woman photographer, I feel that we have suffered a great loss
Sharita Towner, Evergreen Park, IL, USA

Parks became the first black writer and director of a Hollywood film when he made The Learning Tree, an adaptation of his novel about growing up poor and black in 1920s Kansas.

In 1989, the film was among the first 25 to be deemed culturally and historically significant and was preserved in the US National Film Registry.

Shaft, one of the first of a wave of "blaxploitation" films that directly targeted black American audiences, spawned a hit song, Theme from Shaft by Isaac Hayes.

Actor Roundtree said he had "a sneaking suspicion" that the Shaft character was based on Parks.

"Gordon was the ultimate cool," he said. "There's no one cooler than Gordon Parks."

Parks wrote volumes of poetry and fiction, became an accomplished pianist and wrote Martin, a ballet about civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr, which was shown on US TV.

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