Blaxploitation is a film genre that emerged in the United States in the early 1970s when many
exploitation films were made that
targeted an audience of urban black
people; the word itself is a portmanteau of the words "black" and
Blaxploitation films were the first to
of funk and soul music
These films starred primarily black actors. Variety magazine
with the invention of the blaxploitation
genre. Others argue that the Hollywood-financed film Shaft
is closer to being
blaxploitation, and thus, is more likely to have begun the
When set in the Northeast
of the U.S.,
Blaxploitation films tend to take place in the ghetto
, dealing with hit men
. The genre frequently takes place in an
atmosphere of crime and drug-dealing. Ethnic slurs against whites
"), and negative white characters
like corrupt cops, politicians, women of ill-repute and easily
fooled organized crime members were common. Blaxploitation films
set in the South
place on a plantation
, dealing with
Blaxploitation includes several types of films, including crime
(Three the Hard
), horror (Abby
comedy (Uptown Saturday
), nostalgia (Five on the Black Hand
), coming-of-age/courtroom drama (Cooley High/Cornbread, Earl and Me
). The primary
quality of the Blaxploitation film is the targeted marketing to
black audiences with the use of exploitable elements such as a
black cast and subject matter of interest to African-Americans
Following the lead of Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss
, many of these films featured funk
and soul jazz
with heavy bass, funky beats and wah-wah guitars. These soundtracks
are notable for a degree of complexity that was not common for
radio-friendly funk tracks and rich orchestration that included
uncommon instruments such as flutes and violins.
At the same time, the films were accused of stereotyping blacks,
the audience they aimed to appeal to, as pimps and drug dealers.
This dovetailed with common white stereotypes about black people,
and as a result, many called for the end of the blaxploitation
genre. The NAACP
, the Southern Christian
, and the Urban
joined together to form the Coalition Against
Blaxploitation. Backed by many black film professionals, this group
received much media exposure and hastened the death of the genre by
the late 1970s.
Blaxploitation films, such as Mandingo
, laid the foundation 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
films, particularly Spike Lee
Do the Right Thing
's Boyz N the Hood
, among others.
Famous blaxploitation films
Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (1971) Written, produced,
scored, directed by, and starring Melvin Van Peebles, this film is
considered by many to be the film that triggered the
"blaxploitation" trend . The hero is raised among prostitutes and
is arrested for a crime he did not commit; during his arrest, he
saves a Black Panther from a
police beating by attacking the (white) police officers. He becomes
a fugitive from (white) police authority and heads for Mexico.
After various adventures and assistance from an array of colorful
characters, the hero finally crosses the border to safety. In 2004,
Mario Van Peebles directed and
starred as his father in BAADASSSSS!, a biopic about the making of
- Shaft (1971) Directed
by Gordon Parks and featuring Richard Roundtree as the black detective
John Shaft, a character comparable to
James Bond and Dirty Harry. The soundtrack has contributions
from such prominent musicians as Isaac
Hayes, whose recording of the titular song won several awards,
including an Academy Award.
the most famous blaxploitation film, it was deemed culturally
relevant by the Library of Congress. 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 spin-off starring Samuel L. Jackson as the nephew of the original John
Man (1971) This is the story of an Oakland hit man or
contract killer, played by former NFL player
Bernie Casey, who comes to Los Angeles after his brother is murdered. He later
finds out that his niece has been forced into pornography and later
murdered. He then sets out to murder everyone directly involved,
from a porn star (Pam Grier) to a theater
owner (Ed Cambridge) to a man he looked
up to as a child (Rudy Challenger)
to a mobster (Don Diamond). The film is
said to be a remake of, or based on, Get
- Super Fly (1972)
Directed by Gordon Parks, Jr.,
this film had a soundtrack by Curtis
Mayfield and is considered to be a classic of the genre.
- The Legend of
Nigger Charley (1972) Written and co-produced by Fred
Williamson, who also stars. It was followed by the 1973 sequel,
The Soul of Nigger
- Hammer (1972). Starring
Fred Williamson as B.J. Hammer. He
plays a boxer who gets mixed up with a crooked manager who wants
him to throw a fight for the Mafia.
- Across 110th Street
(1972) is a crime thriller about two detectives (played by Anthony Quinn and Yaphet Kotto) who try to catch a group of
robbers who stole $300,000 from the mob before the mob catches up
with them. The title
track by Bobby Womack reached #19
on the Billboard Black Singles
- Black Mama, White
Mama (1972) A women in
prison exploitation movie partly inspired by The Defiant Ones (1958) with Pam Grier and Margaret
Markov in the roles originally played by Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis.
- Black Snake (1972) A
unique Russ Meyer period piece about
colonial slavery, a cruel white plantation mistress named Lady
Susan and her domination of both the black and white men on Saint
- Blacula (1972) is a take on
Dracula, featuring an African
prince (played by William H.
Marshall) who is bitten and
imprisoned by Count Dracula and, once
freed from his coffin, spreads terror in modern day Los
- Slaughter (1972) stars
Jim Brown as an ex-Green Beret who seeks revenge against a crime
syndicate for the murder of his parents. Followed by the sequel,
Slaughter's Big Rip-Off (1973).
- Trouble Man (1972) Starring
Robert Hooks as "Mr. T.", a hard-edged
private detective who tends to take justice into his own hands.
Although the film itself was unsuccessful, it is still of note
today for its successful soundtrack, written, produced and
performed by Motown artist Marvin Gaye.
- Black Caesar (1973)
Fred Williamson plays Tommy Gibbs, a
street smart hoodlum who worked his way up from the bottom of the
barrel to the crime boss of Harlem.
- Blackenstein (1973) is a
joking quasi-sequel to Blacula, featuring a black Frankenstein's monster.
- Cleopatra Jones (1973)
and its sequel, Cleopatra Jones and the
Casino of Gold (1975), stars 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
Brown, and T.N.T.
- Coffy (1973) Pam Grier is Coffy, a nurse turned badass who
takes revenge on all those who hooked her 11-year-old sister on
heroin. Grier's biggest hit. Same formula used again in 1974 with
Grier as Foxy Brown.
9000 (1973) is a 1973 blaxploitation feature film set in
MI, Street-smart white detective Danny Bassett (Rocco)
teams with educated black detective Sgt. Jesse Williams
(Rhodes) to investigate a theft of $400,000 at a fund-raiser for
Representative Aubrey Hale Clayton (Challenger). Championed by
Quentin Tarantino it was released
on video by Miramax in April 1999.
- Gordon's War (1973),
starred Paul Winfield as a Vietnam vet who recruits ex-Army buddies
to fight the Harlem drug dealers and pimps responsible for the
heroin death of his wife.
- The James Bond franchise once took on
some elements of blaxploitation during the heyday of the genre, in
the movie Live and Let
Die (1973). (The plot involved many black and
blaxploitation themes, including Harlem, pimpmobiles, heroin trade,
- The Mack (1973) The
Mack is a 1973 blaxploitation 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 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 deals with 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 named Pretty
Tony, two corrupt white cops, a local crime lord, and even his own
brother (the black nationalist), who try to force him out of the
The movie is set in Oakland, California and was the biggest
grossing blaxploitation film of its time. Its soundtrack songs were
recorded by Motown artist Willie Hutch.
- Scream Blacula
Scream (1973), a sequel to Blacula; William H.
Marshall resumes his role as Blacula/Mamuwalde.
- Slaughter's Big
Rip-Off (1973), Jim Brown continues to battle against the
Mob in this sequel to Slaughter (1972).
- The Spook
Who Sat By the Door (1973). 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, trained in all sorts of
undercover and clandestine operations, including guerrilla warfare, leaves his menial
position to train a street gang in all the CIA has taught him and
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
- Trick Baby (1973), based on the book of the same name
by ex-pimp Iceberg Slim
- Johnny Tough (1974)
Starring Dion Gossett and Renny Roker.
- Black Eye (1974) Action-mystery with Fred Williamson
as a private detective investigating murders connected with a drug
- Truck Turner (1974)
Starring Isaac Hayes and Yaphet Kotto, and directed by Johnathan
Kaplan. The screenplay was written by Michael Allin, Jerry Wilkes
and Oscar Williams.
Truck Turner (portrayed by Isaac Hayes) is a former professional
football player who becomes a bounty hunter (along with his partner
Jerry) in search of a pimp in Los Angeles, California. After a
tragic accident (where Truck uses deadly force where the alleged
pimp is killed and his friend is stabbed by a prostitute), Turner
becomes a marked man by the a hired assassin.
- Willie Dynamite (1974)
Roscoe Orman (Gordon from Sesame Street fame) as a pimp
who lives the "life". As usual with blaxploitation films, the lead
character is seen driving a customized Cadillac Eldorado coupe (the
same car was used in Magnum Force).
- Abby (1974) was a
blaxploitation version of The
Exorcist and starred then rising star 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.
- Black Belt Jones
(1974)—Better known for his role as "Mister Williams" from the
Bruce Lee film Enter the
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
- Foxy Brown
(1974) Largely a remake of her hit film Coffy, Pam Grier once again plays a nurse on a vendetta
against a drug ring.
- Get Christie Love!
(1974 TV movie later released to some theaters). A police drama,
this time with an attractive young black woman (Theresa Graves) as
an undercover cop. Later made into a short-lived TV series.
- Space Is the Place
(1974) A psychedelically-themed blaxploitation film featuring
Sun Ra & His Intergalactic Solar
- Three the Hard
Way (1974), three black men must stop a white supremacist
plot to eliminate all blacks with a serum in the water supply.
- T.N.T. Jackson (1974) 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.
- Sugar Hill
(1974) Set in Houston this film
features a female fashion photographer (Played by Marki Bey) who gets revenge on the local crime Mafia that murdered her
fiance with the use of voodoo
- Sheba, Baby (1975) A female
private eye (Pam Grier) tries to help her father save his loan
business from a gang of thugs.
- The Black Gestapo
(1975) 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. When the Mafia moves in, they establish a military style
- Black Shampoo, a take off
on the Warren Beatty hit Shampoo.
- Boss Nigger (1975) 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 (1975) 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.
Featuring the voice, Barry White as
- 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
- Dr. Black and Mr.
Hyde is a retelling of the Jekyll and Hyde tale, starring
- Dolemite is a 1975
blaxploitation feature film, and 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
- Mandingo (1975). 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.
- Ebony, Ivory &
Jade (1976) 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 (1976) 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
(1976), aka Black Emmanuel, White Emmanuel. A blend of the
Mandingo, and Emmanuelle films with interracial sex
- Velvet Smooth (1976),
Johnnie Hill is the titular Velvet Smooth, a female private
detective hired to infiltrate the criminal underworld.
- Human Tornado (1976), Rudy Ray Moore is back in a much
funnier sequel to the 1975 film Dolemite.
Post 1970s blaxploitation films
- Original Gangstas
(1996) brings together the premiere '70s blaxploitation stars Pam
Grier, Richard Roundtree, Fred
Williamson, and Jim Brown.
- Jackie Brown (1997)
Starring Pam Grier, Samuel L.
Jackson, and an all-star
supporting cast, director Quentin
Tarantino partly pays homage to the blaxploitation genre. Based
on the Elmore Leonard novel Rum
Punch, Tarantino's title change, casting of Grier, and
'70s-style poster art, are all references to Grier's 1974 film
- Pootie Tang, a comedy film
incorporating many blaxploitation elements
- Full Clip (2004) made in the
graphic novel style.
- Hookers In Revolt
(2008) Starring and directed by Sean
Weathers, is an inventive, throwback to early 70s
blaxploitation, with its prevalence of tough-talkin' pimps and
- Black Dynamite (2009)
starring Michael Jai White, is a
spoof of blaxploitation films.
Later influence and media references
An early blaxploitation tribute can be seen in the character of
"Lite" played by Sy 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
and Undercover Brother
(2002), as well as Quentin
(1997), Kill Bill,
(2003), and Death
(2007) feature pop
nods to the blaxploitation genre. The parody
, for instance, starred Eddie Griffin
as an Afro-topped agent for a
clandestine organization satirically known as the
Likewise, Austin Powers in
as the Tamara
In the 1977 parody film The Kentucky Fried Movie
mock trailer for Cleopatra Schwartz
depicts another Pam
Grier-like action star married to a Rabbi. Furthermore, 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
. 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
's remake of
(2000) is a
modern-day interpretation of a classic blaxploitation film. The
1997 film Hoodlum
starring Laurence Fishburne
was an attempt at
gangster blaxploitation, portraying a fictional account of black
mobster Ellsworth "Bumpy" Johnson
2004, Mario Van Peebles
son, released Baadasssss!
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
song Across 110th Street
Furthermore, blaxploitation films have made a profound impact on
contemporary hip hop culture
Several prominent hip hop
(including Snoop Dogg
, Big Daddy Kane
, Ice T
, and Too
) have taken the no-nonsense pimp
persona popularized first by ex-pimp Iceberg Slim
's 1967 book Pimp
by films such as Super
, The Mack
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
including entourages of scantily-clad women, flashy jewelry (known
"), and luxury
(referred to as
"). Perhaps the most
famous scene of The Mack
featuring the "Annual Players Ball
has become an often-referenced pop
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 has carried over into the new medium of
webcomics. In 2009, cartoonist Jay Potts introduced World Of
, a serial, adventure webcomic that pays homage to Black
action movies of the 1970s, such as Shaft
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
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
and Rudy Ray Moore
, were both made during the heyday of
the genre, in 1975. The satirical film Coonskin
intended to deconstruct racial stereotypes ranging from early
stereotypes to more
recent stereotypes found in blaxploitation films of the era.
However, the work encountered a strong amount of controversy before
its release when it was protested by the Congress of Racial Equality
its distribution was handed to a smaller distributor who advertised
as an exploitation film. However, it developed a
cult followinng with black viewers. Dolemite
serious in tone and produced as a spoof. Dolemite
around a sexually active black pimp played by Moore, who based the
film on his stand-up comedy
film was followed by a sequel, The
Later spoofs parodying the blaxploitation genre include
I’m Gonna Git You
, Pootie Tang
The Hebrew Hammer
featured a Jewish
protagonist, and was jokingly
referred to by its director as a "Jewsploitation
A more recent parody is the invention of the Botsploitation
genre championed by the
website botsploitation.com featuring robotic version of famous
features a young black actor who is tempted to take part in a
white-produced blaxploitation film.
series Cowboy Bebop
features several episodes
with blaxploitation themes, particularly Mushroom Samba
which extensively parodies blaxploitation movies.
book Our Dumb Century
has an article from
the 1970s entitled "Congress Passes Anti-Blaxploitation Act: Pimps,
Players Subject to Heavy Fines."
's network television
", has frequently spoofed the
Rudy Ray Moore
, with a series of
sketches performed by comic actor Aries
, in the role of "The Son of Dolemite."
sketches include the characters "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. There was even an episode where the Son of
Dolemite met and faced off against Black Belt Jones
In the movie Leprechaun in
, a character played by Ice-T
pulls a baseball bat from his afro; this scene is a satire of a
similar scene in Foxy
, in which Pam Grier
revolver in her afro.
Adult Swim's Aqua Teen Hunger
series has a recurring character called "Boxy Brown"
(A play on Foxy Brown
, a lead
character in another blaxploitation film). An imaginary friend of
, 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 fronts 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
feature a blaxploitation-themed parody of the
original Max Payne
, after its main character. In the original
Max Payne, there is a dialogue between two mercenaries, one of whom
admits that he has christened his gun "Dick Justice." Dick behaves
much like the original Max Payne (down to the "constipated" grimace
and metaphorical speech) but wears an afro and mustache, and talks
, a fictional character created
for the video game series "Fatal
", is a prime example of foreign black stereotypes.
The animated series Drawn
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
and Christie Love
. Another blaxploitation
example is the repeated minor character named Judge Fudge
, a talking piece of fudge who is a
judge in his own TV show, The Judge Fudge Adventure Power
The sub-cult movie short Crackerkillers from Outer
, a blaxploitation-like science fiction oddity
directed by Danish filmmaker DJ and singer Morten Lindberg
Strip No. 5 of the webcomic Sinfest
is "The New Blaxploitation Funk Bible,"
which parodies various biblical events.
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 in Beavis and Butthead Do
has a Blaxploitation style, even having the theme sung
by Isaac Hayes
Professional wrestler Human Tornado
's gimmick is done in vein to
has parodied Blaxploitation
numerous times using fake movie titles such as "Black to the
Future" (Back to the Future
" (Love Actually
). These parodies occasionally
feature a black version of Peter
On 30 Rock
, Tracy Jordan
claims to have been in a remake of
An Affair to Remember
entitled A Blaffair to Rememblack
- What It Is...What It Was!; The Black Film Explosion of the
’70s in Words and Pictures by Andres Chavez, Denise Chavez,
Gerald Martinez ISBN 0-7868-8377-4
- Bright Lights Film Journal |
- FILM REVIEW; From Blaxploitation Stereotype to Man
on the Street - New York Times
- Filmfanaddict.com review of the film