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Blaxploitation or blacksploitation is an ethnic subgenre of the "exploitation film that emerged in the United States during the early 1970s. The films, though receiving backlash for stereotypical characters all the while, were one of the first instances in which black characters and communities were the heroes and subjects of film and television, rather than being portrayed as sidekicks or as victims of brutality.[1] The genre allowed the rethinking of "race relations in the 1970s.

Blaxploitation films were originally made specifically for an urban "black audience,[2] but the genre's audience appeal soon broadened across racial and ethnic lines once Hollywood realized the potential profit of expanding the audiences of blaxploitation films across those racial lines.

The Los Angeles National Association for the Advancement of Colored People ("NAACP) head and ex-film publicist Junius Griffin coined the term from the words "black" and "exploitation." "Variety credited "Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song and the less radical Hollywood-financed film "Shaft (both released in 1971) with the invention of the blaxploitation genre.[3]

Blaxploitation films were the first to regularly feature "soundtracks of "funk and "soul music and primarily black casts.[4]

Defining qualities of the genre[edit]

When set in the "Northeast or "West Coast, blaxploitation films are mainly set in poor urban neighborhoods. Pejorative terms used against white characters, such as crackers and honky, are common plot and or character elements. Blaxploitation films set in the "South often deal with "slavery and "miscegenation.[6][7] Blaxploitaiton films also are often bold in their statements, and relied on violence, sex, drug trade and other shock-value characteristics to be provoking to the audience.[1] The films usually allow black protagonists to overcome "The Man," or the emblems of the white majority that had been so oppressive to the black community in the preceding decades.

Blaxploitation includes several subtypes, including crime ("Foxy Brown), action/martial arts ("Three the Hard Way), westerns ("Boss Nigger), horror ("Abby, "Blacula), prison ("Penitentiary), 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. They also feature a rich orchestration which included instruments such as flutes and violins, which were used in funk or soul music of the era.[8]

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).

Blaxploitation and Black Power[edit]

"Afeni Shakur claimed that every aspect of culture in the 1960s and 1970s was influenced by the "black power movement. One such cultural sphere that was impacted was cinema. "Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song was one of the first films to incorporate black power ideology and permit black actors to be the stars of their own narratives, rather than being relegated to the typical roles available to them (such as the "mammy" figure and other low status characters).[9][10] Films such as "Shaft brought the black experience to film in a new way, allowing black political and social issues that had previously been ignored in cinema to be explored. Shaft and its protagonist, John Shaft, brought "African American culture to the mainstream world.[10] Sweetsback and Shaft were both heavily influenced by the black power movement, containing "Marxist themes, solidarity and social consciousness alongside the genre-typical images of sex and violence.

Knowing that film as a medium had the ability to bring about social and cultural change, the Black Power movement seized the genre of Blaxploitation as a way to highlight black socioeconomic struggles in the 1970s, as many such films contained black heroes who were able to overcome the institutional oppression of African American culture and history.[1] Later films such as "Superfly softened the rhetoric of black power, encouraging resistance within the capitalist system rather than radical transformation of society, and were therefore easier to stomach for the general public, especially those who did not identify with the message of black power leaders. Superfly did, however, indirectly support the black nationalist movement by showing that black and white authority cannot coexist easily.


The genre's role in exploring and shaping "race relations in the US has been controversial. Some held that the Blaxploitation trend was a token of black empowerment,[11] but others accused the movies 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 to form the Coalition Against Blaxploitation. Their influence in the late 1970s contributed to the genre's demise. Literary critic Addison Gayle wrote in 1974, “The best example of this kind of nihilism / irresponsibility are the Black films; here is freedom pushed to its most ridiculous limits; here are writers and actors who claim that freedom for the artist entails exploitation of the very people to whom they owe their artistic existence.”[12]

Films such as "Shaft" received intense criticism not only for the stereotype of the protagonist (generalizing pimps as representative of all African-American men, in this case), but also for portraying all black communities as hot beds for drug trade and crime.

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. The story world also 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, particularly "Spike Lee ("Do the Right Thing) and "John Singleton ("Boyz n the Hood) focused on black urban life in their movies. These directors made use of Blaxploitation elements while incorporating implicit criticism of the genre's glorification of stereotypical "criminal" behavior.

Alongside accusation of exploiting stereotypes, the NAACP also criticized the blaxploitation genre of exploiting the entire black community and culture of America, by creating films for a profit that those communities would never see, despite being the vastly misrepresented main focus of many blaxploitation film plots. Many film professionals today still believe that there is no truly equal "Black Hollywood," as evidenced by the "Oscars So White" scandal in 2015 that caused uproar when no black actors were nominated for "Best Actor" Oscar Awards.[10]

Later influence and media references[edit]

Blaxploitation films have had an enormous and complicated influence on American cinema. Filmmaker and exploitation film fan "Quentin Tarantino, for example, has made numerous 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).["citation needed] Richardson later wrote "Posse (1993), which is a kind of blaxploitation "Western.

Some of the later, non-blaxploitation movies such as "Jackie Brown (1997), "Undercover Brother (2002), "Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002), "Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003), and "Django Unchained (2012) 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 a famous scene in "Reservoir Dogs, the protagonists discuss "Get Christie Love!, a mid-1970s blaxploitation television series. In the catalytic scene of "True Romance, the characters watch 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 and recasts gangster Blaxploitation with a 1930s twist. In 2004, "Mario Van Peebles released "Baadasssss!, about the making of his father's movie (Mario plays 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 its prominent featuring of the song ""Across 110th Street".

Blaxploitation films have profoundly impacted 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. 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, which include entourages of scantily-clad women, flashy jewelry (known as ""bling-bling"), and luxury "Cadillacs (referred to as ""pimpmobiles"). 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.[13]

In "Michael Chabon's novel "Telegraph Avenue, set in 2004, two characters are former Blaxploitation stars.[14]

In 1980, opera director "Peter Sellars (not to be confused with actor "Peter Sellers) produced and directed a staging of "Mozart's opera "Don Giovanni in the manner of a blaxploitation film, set in contemporary Spanish Harlem, with African-American singers portraying the anti-heroes as street-thugs, killing by gunshot rather than with a sword, using recreational drugs, and partying almost naked.[15] It was later released on commercial video and can be seen on "YouTube.[16]

A 2016 video game, "Mafia III is set in the year 1968, and revolves around Lincoln Clay, a mixed-race African American orphan raised by ""black mob"[17]. After the murder of his surrogate family at the hands of the Italian mafia, Lincoln Clay seeks vengeance on those who took away the only thing that mattered to him.

Cultural references and parodies[edit]

The notoriety of the Blaxploitation genre has led to many parodies.[18] 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, from early "minstrel show stereotypes to more recent stereotypes found in blaxploitation film itself. The work stimulated great controversy even before its release when the "Congress of Racial Equality challenged it. 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.[3] 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. A sequel, "The Human Tornado, followed.

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.

Another of "FOX's network television comedies, ""Martin" starring "Martin Lawrence, frequently references the blaxploitation genre. In the Season Three episode "All The Players Came", when Martin organizes a "Player's Ball" charity event to save a local theater, several stars of the blaxploitation era, such as "Rudy Ray Moore, "Antonio Fargas, "Dick Anthony Williams and "Pam Grier all make cameo appearances. In one scene, Martin, in character as aging pimp "Jerome", refers to Pam Grier as ""Sheba, Baby" in reference to her 1975 blaxploitation feature film of the same name.

In the movie "Leprechaun in the Hood, a character played by "Ice-T pulls a baseball bat from his Afro. This scene alludes 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 French cut that dons an afro. Whenever Boxy speaks, ’70s funk music, typical of blaxploitation films, plays 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 black, half human, 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 like "Samuel L. Jackson.["citation needed]

The intro credits of "Beavis and Butt-Head Do America feature a Blaxploitation style 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]











Post-1970s Blaxploitation films[edit]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ a b c https://www.jstor.org/stable/2901183?seq=13#page_scan_tab_contents
  2. ^ Denby, David (August 1972). "Getting Whitey". The Atlantic Monthly: 86–88. 
  3. ^ 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. 
  4. ^ Ebert, Roger (2004-06-11). "Review of Baadasssss!". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2007-01-04. 
  5. ^ Canby, Vincent (1976-04-25). "Are Black Films Losing Their Blackness?". The New York Times. p. 79. "ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2018-02-25. 
  6. ^ Bright Lights Film Journal | Blaxploitation
  7. ^ Holden, Stephen (2000-06-09). "FILM REVIEW; From Blaxploitation Stereotype to Man on the Street". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-04-26. 
  8. ^ "Music Genre: Blaxploitation". Allmusic. Retrieved 2007-06-21. 
  9. ^ http://connection.ebscohost.com/c/articles/9603204305/african-american-images-television-film
  10. ^ a b c https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Taek_b3CM30
  11. ^ "Despite its incendiary name, Blaxploitation was viewed by many as being a token of empowerment". "Seattle Times. Retrieved 2016-09-26. 
  12. ^ Addison Gayle, Black World, December 1974
  13. ^ "Beggin'". Youtube.com. 2007-11-22. Retrieved 2013-08-08. 
  14. ^ "Michael Chabon, Telegraph Avenue: Read an exclusive excerpt". National Public Radio. 2012-08-12. Retrieved 2014-09-25. 
  15. ^ http://articles.latimes.com/1990-12-13/entertainment/ca-8541_1_peter-sellars-directs
  16. ^ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vMXU5pjhPTM
  17. ^ Takahashi, Dean. "How developers created the story behind Mafia III and its lead character Lincoln Clay". VentureBeat. Retrieved 7 January 2017. 
  18. ^ Maynard, Richard (2000-06-16). "The Birth and Demise of the 'Blaxploitation' Genre". "The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2011-01-29. 
  19. ^ Tom Symmons (2014): ‘The Birth of Black Consciousness on the Screen’?: The African American Historical Experience, Blaxploitation, and the Production and Reception of Sounder (1972), Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, DOI: 10.1080/01439685.2014.933645
  20. ^ Andrew Dawson, "Challenging Lilywhite Hollywood: African Americans and the Demand for Racial Equality in the Motion Picture Industry, 1963–1974"The Journal of Popular Culture, Vol. 45, No. 6, 2012
  21. ^ Ed Guerrero, FRAMING BLACKNESS. Temple U. Press. pp. 95–97.
  22. ^ Dutka, Elaine (1997-06-30). "ReDiggin' the Scene". "The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2011-01-30. 
  23. ^ News from the Library of Congress: December 19, 2012 (REVISED December 20, 2012) Retrieved: 29 December 2012
  24. ^ "Pam Grier looks back on blaxploitation: 'At the time some people were horrified'". "The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2011-01-29. 
  25. ^ "Filmfanaddict.com review of the film". Shockingimages.com. Retrieved 2013-08-08. 
  26. ^ http://screencrush.com/pam-grier-blaxploitation-movies-streaming/

External links[edit]

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