Was rumored to be written as just another detective movie, with a white detective in the lead, but, after the success of Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (1971), the film was rewritten and recast as a blaxploitation movie. This story has been told several times by director Melvin Van Peebles. However, it is probably apocryphal. The Ernest Tidyman novel which was the basis for the film is about a black detective and not a white one. Furthermore, "Shaft" began filming in January, 1971 - months before Van Peebles' film was released in April.
Much of the action centers around 125th Street in Harlem. The exterior of Shaft's apartment was at 55 Jane Street, in Greenwich Village, across the street from the (real) "No Name Bar" at 621 Hudson Street. The bar later became a deli.
At the beginning of the film, Shaft passes a large poster for Neil Simon's Broadway play "Last of the Red Hot Lovers" that was playing at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre at the time and would soon be made into the film - Last of the Red Hot Lovers (1972). Beside it is another Broadway play's poster for "The Gingerbread Lady" which was playing at the Plymouth Theatre (Gerald Shoenfeld Theatre since 2005). Also, beside it, is a poster for the long-running musical "Hair" that was playing at the Biltmore Theatre (Samuel J. Friedman Theatre since 2008), and that would be made into the film Hair (1979).
Gordon Parks: [Essence Magazine] Shaft is seen reading a copy of Essence Magazine in his girlfriend's apartment. Parks is a co-founder of Essence. The magazine is spotted when Shaft is engaging in a conversation with a blind newsstand vendor during the opening sequence.