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Blaxploitation or blacksploitation is a film genre which emerged in the United States circa 1970. These exploitation films were made specifically for an urban, black audience. The word itself is a portmanteau of the words "black" and "exploitation", and was coined in the early 1970s by the Los Angeles NAACP head, and ex-film publicist, Junius Griffin. Blaxploitation films were the first to feature soundtracks of funk and soul music]] and they featured a primarily black cast.Variety magazine 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 (1971 film)|Shaft, also released in 1971, is closer to being a Blaxploitation piece; and thus is more likely to have begun the trend.


Common qualitiesEdit

When set in the North-eastern United States or West Coast, Blaxploitation films typically take place in ghettos and feature plotlines which entail crime, hit men, drug dealers and pimps. Ethnic slurs against whites (e.g., "honky"), and antagonistic white characters such as corrupt cops, politicians, prostitutes and gullible gangsters are common. Meanwhile, Blaxploitation films set in the Southern United States often take place on a plantation, dealing with slavery and miscegenation.

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 of these films featured funk and soul jazz soundtracks with heavy bass, funky beats and Wah-wah pedal guitars. These soundtracks are notable for a degree of complexity which was not common to the radio-friendly funk tracks of the '70s; and a rich orchestration which included instruments rarely used in funk or soul; such as the flute and the violin.

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).

StereotypesEdit

While some held that the Blaxploitation trend was a token of black empowerment, these movies were accused by some of perpetuating common white stereotypes about black people and, as a result, many called for the end of the Blaxploitation genre. The NAACP, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and the Urban League joined together to form the Coalition Against Blaxploitation. Supported by many black film professionals this group received much media exposure and, during the late 1970s, contributed to the demise of the genre.

Blaxploitation films such as Mandingo, provided the opportunity for future filmmakers to address racial controversies regarding inner city poverty, and in the 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.

1970Edit

1971Edit

  • Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song: written, produced, scored, directed by, and starring Melvin Van Peebles. The hero is raised among prostitutes and is arrested for a crime he did not commit. During his arrest, he saves a young black male from a police beating by attacking the (white) police officers. He becomes a fugitive from (white) police authority and heads for Mexico. In 2004, Mario Van Peebles directed and starred as his father in BAADASSSSS!, a biopic about the making of Sweet Sweetback.
  • Shaft: directed by Gordon Parks and featuring Richard Roundtree as detective John Shaft. The popular soundtrack features contributions from Isaac Hayes whose recording of the titular song won several awards including an Academy Award. Perhaps the most famous Blaxploitation film, it was deemed culturally relevant by the Library of Congree. It spawned two sequels, Shaft's Big Score (1972) and Shaft in Africa (1973), as well as a short-lived TV series starring Roundtree. The concept was revived in 2000 with an all-new sequel starring Samuel L. Jackson as the nephew of the original John Shaft.

1972Edit

1973Edit

  • Black Caesar. Fred Williamson plays Tommy Gibbs: a street smart hoodlum who has worked his way up to being the crime boss of Harlem.
  • Blackenstein is a parody of Frankenstein and features a black Frankenstein's monster.
  • Cleopatra Jones and its sequel, Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold (1975), star Tamara Dobson as a karate-chopping government agent. The first film marked the beginning of a subgenre of blaxploitation films which focused on strong female leads who took an active role in shootouts and fights. Some of these films include Coffy, Black Belt Jones, Foxy Brown, and T.N.T. Jackson.
  • Coffy. Pam Grier is Coffy, a nurse turned vigilante who takes revenge on all those who hooked her 11-year-old sister on heroin. Coffy marked Pam Grier's biggest hit and was re-worked for Foxy Brown, Friday Foster and Sheba Baby.
  • Detroit 9000, set in Detroit, MI, features street-smart white detective Danny Bassett (Alex Rocco)who teams with educated black detective Sgt. Jesse Williams (Hari Rhodes) to investigate the theft of $400,000 at a fund-raiser for Representative Aubrey Hale Clayton (Rudy Challenger). Championed by Quentin Tarantino it was released on video by Miramax in April 1999.
  • Gordon's War stars Paul Winfield as a Vietnam vet who recruits ex-Army buddies to fight the Harlem drug dealers and pimps responsible for the heroin-fueled death of his wife.
  • The Mack: a film starring Max Julien and Richard Pryor.This movie was produced during the era of such blaxploitation movies as Dolemite. However it is not considered by its makers a true blaxploitation picture. It is more a social commentary according to Mackin' Ain't Easy, a documentary about the making of The Mack, which can be found on the DVD edition of the film. The movie tells the story of the life of John Mickens (AKA Goldie), a former drug dealer recently released from prison who becomes a big-time pimp. Standing in his way is another pimp: Pretty Tony; two corrupt white cops; a local crime lord; and his own brother (a black nationalist), who all try to force him out of the business. The movie is set in Oakland, California and was the biggest grossing Blaxploitation film of its time. Its soundtrack was recorded by Motown artist Willie Hutch.
  • Scream Blacula Scream: a sequel to Blacula; William H. Marshall resumes his role as Blacula/Mamuwalde.
  • Slaughter's Big Rip-Off. Jim Brown continues to battle against the Mob in this sequel to Slaughter (1972).
  • The Spook Who Sat By the Door is adapted from Sam Greenlee's novel and directed by Ivan Dixon; with music by Herbie Hancock. A token black CIA employee, who is secretly a black nationalist, leaves his position to train a street gang in CIA tactics in order to become an army of "freedom fighters". The film was reportedly pulled from distribution because of its politically controversial message and depictions of an American race war.Until its 2004 DVD release, it was very difficult to obtain, save for infrequent bootleg VHS copies.
  • Trick Baby: based on the book of the same name by ex-pimp Iceburg Slim.

1974Edit

  • Abby is a blaxploitation version of The Exorcist and stars Carol Speed as a virtuous young woman possessed by a demon; Ms. Speed also sings the title song. William H. Marshall (of Blacula fame) conducts the exorcism of Abby on the floor of a discotheque. A hit in its time, it was later pulled from the theaters after Warner Bros. successfully sued AIP over copyright issues.
  • Black Belt Jones. Better known for his role as "Mister Williams" in the Bruce Lee film Enter the Dragon, Jim Kelly was given a leading role in this martial arts film. In it he plays Black Belt Jones, a federal agent/martial arts expert who takes on the mob as he avenges the murder of a karate school owner.
  • Black Eye: an action-mystery with Fred Williamson as a private detective investigating murders connected with a drug ring.
  • The Black Six, about a black motorcycle gang seeking revenge, is a combination of blaxploitation and outlaw biker film.
  • Foxy Brown. Largely a remake of her hit film Coffy, Pam Grier once again plays a nurse on a vendetta against a drug ring. Originally written as a sequel to Coffy, the film's working title was Burn, Coffy, Burn!.
  • Get Christie Love! (TV movie later released to some theaters). A police drama, this time with an attractive young black woman (Teresa Graves) as an undercover cop. Later made into a short-lived TV series.
  • Johnny Tough; starring Dion Gossett and Renny Roker.
  • Space Is the Place: a psychedelically-themed blaxploitation film featuring Sun Ra & His Intergalactic Solar Arkestra.
  • Three the Hard Way. Three black men (Fred Williamson, Jim Kelly, and Jim Brown) must stop a white supremacist plot to eliminate all blacks with a serum in the water supply. Gordon Parks, Jr. directs.
  • T.N.T. Jackson. Starring Jean Bell (one of the first black Playboy playmates), this film, partly set in Hong Kong, is notable for blending blaxploitation with the then-popular "chop-socky" martial arts genre.
  • Truck Turner; starring Isaac Hayes, Yaphet Kotto, Nichelle Nichols; directed by Johnathan Kaplan. Former football player turned bounty hunter is pitted against a powerful prostitution crime syndicate in Los Angeles.
  • Sugar Hill. Set in Houston, this film features a female fashion photographer (Played by Marki Bey) who wreaks revenge on the local crime Mafia that murdered her fiance with the use of voodoo magic.
  • Together Brothers. Set in Galveston, Texas, a street gang solves the murder of a Galveston, TX police officer (played by Ed Bernard who has been a mentor to the gang leader.. This was the first Blaxploitation film to feature a transgender character as the film's villain. Galveston, TX native Barry White composed the film's score; the soundtrack features music by the Love Unlimited Orchestra.
  • Willie Dynamite. Roscoe Orman (Gordon from Sesame Street fame) plays a pimp. As in many Blaxploitation films, the lead character drives a customized Cadillac Eldorado coupe (the same car was used in Magnum Force).

1975Edit

  • Sheba, Baby. A female private eye (Pam Grier) tries to help her father save his loan business from a gang of thugs.
  • The Black Gestapo. Rod Perry plays General Ahmed who has started an inner-city People's Army to try and relieve the misery of the citizens of Watts, Los Angeles. When the Mafia moves in, they establish a military style squad.
  • Black Shampoo: a take off of the Warren Beatty hit Shampoo.
  • Boss Nigger. Along with his friend Amos (D’Urville Martin), Boss Nigger (Fred Williamson) takes over the vacated position of sheriff in a small western town in this Western Blaxploitation film. Because of its controversial title, it was released in some markets as The Boss, The Black Bounty Killer or The Black Bounty Hunter.
  • Coonskin is an animated/live-action, controversial Ralph Bakshi film about Br'er Fox, Br'er Rabbit, and Br'er Bear in a Blaxploitation parody of Disney's Song of the South. It features the voice of Barry White as Br'er Bear.
  • Darktown Strutters (1975) is a farce produced by Roger Corman's brother, Gene, and directed by William Witney. A Colonel Sanders-type figure with a chain of urban fried chicken restaurants is attempting to wipe out the black race by making them impotent through his drugged fried chicken.
  • Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde is a retelling of the Jekyll and Hyde tale, starring Bernie Casey.
  • Dolemite is also the name of its principal character, played by Rudy Ray Moore, who co-wrote the film. Moore had developed the alter-ego as a stand-up comedian and released several comedy albums using this persona. The film was directed by D'Urville Martin, who appears as the villain Willie Green. The film has attained something of a cult status, earning it a following and making it more well known than many of its counterparts. A sequel, The Human Tornado, was released in 1976.
  • Mandingo. Based on a series of lurid Civil War novels, this focuses on the abuses of slavery and the sexual relations between slaves and slave owners. It was followed by a sequel, Drum (1976) with Pam Grier.
  • The Candy Tangerine Man: The film opens with pageantry pimp Baron (John Daniels) driving his customised two tone red and yellow Rolls Royce around downtown L.A at night. His ladies have been coming up short lately and he wants to know why. It turns out that two L.A.P.D. cops - Dempsey and Gordon, who have been after Baron for some time now - have resorted to rousting his girls every chance they get. Indeed in the next scene they have set Baron up with a cop in drag to entrap him with procurement of prostitutes.

1976Edit

  • Ebony, Ivory & Jade by Cirio Santiago (also known as She Devils in Chains, American Beauty Hostages, Foxfire, Foxforce). Three female athletes are kidnapped during an international track meet in Hong Kong and fight their way to freedom. Another cross-genre blend of blaxploitation and martial arts action films.
  • The Muthers is another Cirio Santiago combination of Filipino martial arts action and women-in-prison elements. Jeanne Bell and Jayne Kennedy rescue prisoners held at an evil coffee plantation.
  • Passion Plantation a.k.a. Black Emmanuel, White Emmanuel. A blend of the Mandingo, and Emmanuelle are erotic films with interracial sex and savagery.
  • Velvet Smooth. Johnnie Hill is the titular Velvet Smooth: a female private detective hired to infiltrate the criminal underworld.
  • Human Tornado. Rudy Ray Moore plays in the sequel to the 1975 film Dolemite.

1977Edit

  • Black Fist: a film featuring a streetfighter who goes to work for a white gangster and a corrupt cop. The film is in the public domain. Cast members include Richard Lawson and Dabney Coleman
  • Black Samurai, based on a novel of the same name by Marc Olden, is directed by Al Adamson and stars Jim Kelly. The script is credited to B. Readick, with additional story ideas from Marco Joachim.
  • Bare Knuckles stars Robert Viharo, Sherry Jackson and Gloria Hendry. The film, written and directed by Don Edmonds, follows L.A. bounty hunter Zachary Kane (Viharo) on the hunt for a masked serial killer on the loose.
  • Petey Wheatstraw a.k.a. Petey Wheatstraw, the Devil's Son-In-Law is a Blaxploitation film written by Cliff Roquemore and stars popular Blaxploitation genre comedian Rudy Ray Moore; along with Jimmy Lynch, Leroy Daniels, Ernest Mayhand, and Ebony Wright. It is typical of Moore's other films of the era, Dolemite and The Human Tornado, in that it features Rudy Ray Moore's rhyming dialogue.

1978Edit

  • Death Dimension is an action and martial arts film by Al Adamson starring Jim Kelly, Harold Sakata, George Lazenby, Terry Moore, and Aldo Ray. The movie also goes by the names Death Dimensions, Freeze Bomb, 'Icy Death, The Kill Factor, and Black Eliminator. The plot revolves about a scientist, Professor Mason, who has invented a powerful freezing bomb for a gangster leader nicknamed "the Pig" (Sakata).

1979Edit

  • Disco Godfather (also known as The Avenging Disco Godfather) is an action film starring Rudy Ray Moore and Carol Speed. The plot centers on Moore's character, a retired cop, who owns and operates a disco and who tries to shut down the local angel dust dealer after his nephew becomes hooked on the drug.

Post 1970s blaxploitation filmsEdit

Later influence and media referencesEdit

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), Superbad (2007), Inglourious Basterds (2009) and Undercover Brother (2002), as well as Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown (1997), Kill Bill, Vol. 1 (2003), and Death Proof (2007) 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 Pam Grier-like action star married to a Rabbi. The acclaimed film auteur and noted fan of exploitation films, Quentin Tarantino has made countless references to the Blaxploitation genre in his films, in addition to Jackie Brown; in a famous scene in Reservoir Dogs, for instance, 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 remake of Shaft (2000), starring Samuel L. Jackson is a modern-day interpretation of a classic Blaxploitation film. The 1997 film Hoodlum starring Laurence Fishburne, portraying a fictional account of black mobster Ellsworth "Bumpy" Johnson, was an attempt at gangster Blaxploitation but 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 Chapelle's Show, where it was parodied as the "Player-Haters’ Ball". The genre's overseas influence extends to artists such as Norway's Madcon.

Blaxploitation's influence is also seen in the medium of webcomics. In 2009, cartoonist Jay Potts introduced World Of Hurt, a serial, adventure webcomic which pays homage to Black action movies of the 1970s, such as Shaft or 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.

In the 2000s, the term "Brownsploitation" was termed as a play on the word in literary circles, referring to the body of conspiracy fiction that became popular after the success of author Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code" and its prequel, "Angels and Demons".

Cultural references and parodiesEdit

The notoriety of the genre has led to a number of parodies, some of them humorous, others satirical. The earliest attempts to mock the genre, Ralph Bakshi's Coonskin and Rudy Ray Moore's Dolemite, were both made during the heyday of the genre, in 1975. The satirical film Coonskin was intended to deconstruct racial stereotypes ranging from early minstrel show stereotypes to more recent stereotypes found in Blaxploitation films of the era. However, the work encountered a large amount of controversy before its release when it was challenged by the Congress of Racial Equality, and its distribution was handed to a smaller distributor who then advertised it as an exploitation film. However, it developed a cult followinng with black viewers. Dolemite was less serious in tone and produced as a spoof. Dolemite centered around a sexually active black pimp played by 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 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 talks in Ebonics.

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

The animated series Drawn Together features a character named Foxxy Love who spoofs both 1970s Hanna-Barbera cartoons and Blaxploitation characters. Her name is derived from those of the characters Foxy Brown and Christie Love.

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-vampire vampire-hunter), as well as a Blaxploitation reference: he has an afro, sideburns, and a mustache; 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 Butthead 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.

Transylvania Television, a Muppets-like adult comedy television and internet show, features Kim Ho-Tep, a Blacksploitation mummy based on the Foxy Brown archetype.

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