Blaxploitation

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Blaxploitation or blacksploitation is a film genre that emerged in the United States in the 1970s. It is considered an ethnic subgenre of the general category of exploitation films. Blaxploitation films were originally made specifically for an urban black audience, although the genre's audience appeal soon broadened across racial and ethnic lines. The term itself is a portmanteau of the words "black" and "exploitation," following upon the briefly-common use "sexploitation" for porn-inflected films, and was coined in the early 1970s by the Los Angeles National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) head, and ex-film publicist Junius Griffin. Blaxploitation films were the first to regularly feature soundtracks of funk and soul music as well as primarily black casts.[1] Variety credited Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, released in 1971, with the invention of the blaxploitation genre while others argue that the Hollywood-financed film Shaft, also released in 1971, is closer to being a blaxploitation piece and thus is more likely to have begun the trend.[2]

Defining qualities of the genre[edit]

When set in the Northeast or West Coast, blaxploitation films are mainly set in poor neighborhoods. Ethnic slurs against white characters, such as "crackers" and "honky," and other derogatory names are common plot and or character elements. Blaxploitation films set in the South often take place dealing with slavery and miscegenation.[3][4]

Blaxploitation includes several subtypes of films including crime (Foxy Brown), action/martial arts (Three the Hard Way), westerns (Boss Nigger), horror (Abby, Blacula), comedy (Uptown Saturday Night), nostalgia (Five on the Black Hand Side), coming-of-Age/courtroom drama (Cooley High/Cornbread, Earl and Me), and musical (Sparkle).

Following the example set by Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, many blaxploitation films feature funk and soul jazz soundtracks with heavy bass, funky beats, and wah-wah guitars. These soundtracks are notable for a degree of complexity that was not common to the radio-friendly funk tracks of the 1970s, and a rich orchestration which included instruments rarely used in funk or soul such as the flute and the violin.[5]

Following the popularity of blaxploitation films in the 1970s, films within other genres began to feature black characters with stereotypical blaxploitation characteristics, such as the Harlem underworld characters in Live and Let Die (1973), Jim Kelly's character in Enter the Dragon (1973), and Fred Williamson's character in The Inglorious Bastards (1978).

Stereotypes[edit]

The genre's role in exploring and shaping race relations in the US has been controversial. While some held that the Blaxploitation trend was a token of black empowerment,[6] the movies were accused by others of perpetuating common white stereotypes about black people. As a result, many called for the end of the genre. The NAACP, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and National Urban League joined together to form the Coalition Against Blaxploitation. Through their influence, during the late 1970s, they contributed to the demise of the genre.

Blaxploitation films such as Mandingo (1975) provided mainstream Hollywood producers, in this case Dino De Laurentiis, a cinematic way to depict plantation slavery, with all of its brutal, historical and ongoing racial contradictions and controversies, including sex, miscegenation, rebellion and so on. In addition, the story world depicts the plantation as one of the main origins of boxing as a sport in the U.S. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, a new wave of acclaimed black filmmakers focused on black urban life in their movies, particularly Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing and John Singleton's Boyz n the Hood, among others. These films made use of elements of Blaxploitation, but also incorporated implicit criticism of the genre's glorification of stereotypical "criminal" behavior.

Later influence and media references[edit]

Blaxploitation films have had an enormous and complicated influence on American cinema. The acclaimed film auteur and noted fan of exploitation film, Quentin Tarantino, for example, has made countless references to the Blaxploitation genre in his films. An early blaxploitation tribute can be seen in the character of "Lite," played by Sy Richardson, in Repo Man (1984). Richardson would later go on to write Posse (1993), which could be described as a kind of blaxploitation Western.

Later movies such as Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002) and Undercover Brother (2002), as well as Tarantino's Jackie Brown (1997), Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003), Death Proof (2007), and Inglourious Basterds (2009) feature pop culture nods to the Blaxploitation genre. The parody Undercover Brother, for example, stars Eddie Griffin as an afro-topped agent for a clandestine organization satirically known as the "B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D.". Likewise, Austin Powers in Goldmember co-stars Beyoncé Knowles as the Tamara Dobson/Pam Grier-inspired heroine, Foxxy Cleopatra. In the 1977 parody film The Kentucky Fried Movie, a mock trailer for Cleopatra Schwartz depicts another Grier-like action star married to a rabbi. In addition to Jackie Brown, in a famous scene in Reservoir Dogs, the main characters engage in a brief discussion regarding Get Christie Love!, a mid-1970s blaxploitation television series. Similarly, in the catalytic scene of True Romance, the characters are seen viewing the movie The Mack.

John Singleton's Shaft (2000), starring Samuel L. Jackson, is a modern-day interpretation of a classic blaxploitation film. The 1997 film Hoodlum starring Laurence Fishburne, portrays a fictional account of black mobster Ellsworth "Bumpy" Johnson, recast gangster Blaxploitation with a 1930s twist. In 2004, Mario Van Peebles released Baadasssss!, a movie based on the making of his father's movie in which Mario played his father. 2007's American Gangster, based on the true story of heroin dealer Frank Lucas, takes place in the early 1970s in Harlem and has many elements similar in style to blaxploitation films, specifically when the theme Across 110th Street is played.

Blaxploitation films have made a profound impact on contemporary hip-hop culture. Several prominent hip hop artists including Snoop Dogg, Big Daddy Kane, Ice-T, Slick Rick, and Too Short have adopted the no-nonsense pimp persona popularized first by ex-pimp Iceberg Slim's 1967 book Pimp and subsequently by films such as Super Fly, The Mack, and Willie Dynamite, as inspiration for their own works. In fact, many hip-hop artists have paid tribute to pimping within their lyrics (most notably 50 Cent's hit single "P.I.M.P.") and have openly embraced the pimp image in their music videos, by including entourages of scantily-clad women, flashy jewelry (known as "bling-bling"), and luxury Cadillacs (referred to as "pimpmobiles"). Perhaps the most famous scene of The Mack, featuring the "Annual Players Ball", has become an often-referenced pop culture icon; most recently by Chappelle's Show, where it was parodied as the "Playa Hater's Ball". The genre's overseas influence extends to artists such as Norway's hip-hop duo Madcon.[7]

Blaxploitation's influence is also seen in the medium of webcomics. In 2009, cartoonist Jay Potts introduced World Of Hurt,[8] a serial, adventure webcomic which pays homage to black action movies of the 1970s, such as Shaft and Slaughter's Big Rip-Off. However, unlike most recent works that reference blaxploitation, the genre is treated seriously within the strip, not as a source of parody or humor.

Cultural references and parodies[edit]

The notoriety of the Blaxploitation genre has led to many parodies, both humorous and satirical.[9] The earliest attempts to mock the genre, Ralph Bakshi's Coonskin and Rudy Ray Moore's Dolemite, date back to the genre's heyday in 1975. Coonskin was intended to deconstruct racial stereotypes, ranging from early minstrel show stereotypes to the more recent stereotypes found in blaxploitation film itself. However, the work stimulated great controversy even before its release when it was challenged by the Congress of Racial Equality. Even though distribution was handed to a smaller distributor who advertised it as an exploitation film, it soon developed a cult following with black viewers.[2] Dolemite, less serious in tone and produced as a spoof, centers around a sexually active black pimp played by Rudy Ray Moore, who based the film on his stand-up comedy act. The film was followed by a sequel, The Human Tornado.

Later spoofs parodying the Blaxploitation genre include I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, Pootie Tang, Undercover Brother, Black Dynamite and The Hebrew Hammer, which featured a Jewish protagonist, and was jokingly referred to by its director as a "Jewsploitation" film.

Robert Townsend's comedy Hollywood Shuffle features a young black actor who is tempted to take part in a white-produced Blaxploitation film.

The satirical book Our Dumb Century features an article from the 1970s entitled "Congress Passes Anti-Blaxploitation Act: Pimps, Players Subject to Heavy Fines".

FOX's network television comedy, "MADtv", has frequently spoofed the Rudy Ray Moore-created franchise Dolemite, with a series of sketches performed by comic actor Aries Spears, in the role of "The Son of Dolemite". Other sketches include the characters "Funkenstein", "Dr. Funkenstein" and more recently Condoleezza Rice as a blaxploitation superhero. A recurring theme in these sketches is the inexperience of the cast and crew in the blaxploitation era, with emphasis on ridiculous scripting and shoddy acting, sets, costumes and editing. The sketches are testaments to the poor production quality of the films, with obvious boom mike appearances and intentionally poor cuts and continuity.

In the movie Leprechaun in the Hood, a character played by Ice-T pulls a baseball bat from his Afro; this scene is an allusion to a similar scene in Foxy Brown, in which Pam Grier hides a revolver in her Afro.

Adult Swim's Aqua Teen Hunger Force series has a recurring character called "Boxy Brown" - a play on Foxy Brown. An imaginary friend of Meatwad, Boxy Brown is a cardboard box with a crudely drawn face with a goatee on it that dons an afro. Whenever Boxy speaks, ’70s funk music, typical of blaxploitation films, is played in the background. The cardboard box also has a confrontational attitude and dialect similar to many heroes of this film genre.

Some of the TVs found in the action video game Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne feature a Blaxploitation-themed parody of the original Max Payne game called Dick Justice, after its main character. Dick behaves much like the original Max Payne (down to the "constipated" grimace and metaphorical speech) but wears an afro and mustache, and speaks in Ebonics.

Duck King, a fictional character created for the video game series Fatal Fury, is a prime example of foreign black stereotypes.

The sub-cult movie short Gayniggers from Outer Space is a Blaxploitation-like science fiction oddity directed by Danish filmmaker, DJ, and singer Morten Lindberg.

Jefferson Twilight, a character in The Venture Bros., is a parody of the comic-book character Blade (a half-black, half-vampire vampire hunter), as well as a blaxploitation reference: He has an afro, sideburns, and a mustache. He carries swords, dresses in stylish 1970s clothing, and says that he hunts "Blaculas". He looks and sounds somewhat like Samuel L. Jackson.

The intro credits of Beavis and Butt-Head Do America has a Blaxploitation style, having the theme sung by Isaac Hayes.

Family Guy has parodied blaxploitation numerous times using fake movie titles such as "Black to the Future" (Back to the Future) and "Love Blactually" (Love Actually). These parodies occasionally feature a stereotyped black version of Peter Griffin.

Martha Southgate's 2005 novel Third Girl from the Left is set in Hollywood during the era of blaxploitation films and references many blaxploitation films and stars such as Pam Grier and Coffy.

Notable blaxploitation films[edit]

1970[edit]

1971[edit]

1972[edit]

1973[edit]

1974[edit]

1975[edit]

1976[edit]

1977[edit]

1978[edit]

1979[edit]

Post 1970s Blaxploitation Films[edit]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Ebert, Roger (2004-06-11). "Review of Baadasssss!". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2007-01-04. 
  2. ^ a b James, Darius (1995). That's Blaxploitation!: Roots of the Baadasssss 'Tude (Rated X by an All-Whyte Jury). ISBN 0-312-13192-5. 
  3. ^ Bright Lights Film Journal | Blaxploitation
  4. ^ Holden, Stephen (2000-06-09). "FILM REVIEW; From Blaxploitation Stereotype to Man on the Street". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-04-26. 
  5. ^ "Music Genre: Blaxploitation". Allmusic. Retrieved 2007-06-21. 
  6. ^ "Despite its incendiary name, Blaxploitation was viewed by many as being a token of empowerment.". Seattle Times. Retrieved 2011-01-31. 
  7. ^ "Beggin'". Youtube.com. 2007-11-22. Retrieved 2013-08-08. 
  8. ^ World of Hurt
  9. ^ Maynard, Richard (2000-06-16). "The Birth and Demise of the 'Blaxploitation' Genre". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2011-01-29. 
  10. ^ Ed Guerrero, FRAMING BLACKNESS. Temple U. Press. pp. 95–97.
  11. ^ Dutka, Elaine (1997-06-30). "ReDiggin' the Scene". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2011-01-30. 
  12. ^ News from the Library of Congress: December 19, 2012 (REVISED December 20, 2012) Retrieved: 29 December 2012
  13. ^ "Pam Grier looks back on blaxploitation: ‘At the time some people were horrified’". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2011-01-29. 
  14. ^ "Filmfanaddict.com review of the film". Shockingimages.com. Retrieved 2013-08-08. 

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