Blaxploitation

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Intro

Fighting for ones own identity is something that can be seen in many walks of life and "Blaxploitation" or "Blacksploitation" is a style of film and music that grew in the USA during the 1970s. Blaxploitation gave birth to a lot of changes in music, Blaxploitation had a massive influence on the entire Hip Hop and Rap genre of music and fought for a lot of rights within music for the African American community.

In the film industry, Blaxploitation was originally created specifically for an urban African American audience, although the genre's audience appeal soon broadened and began to appeal to a much wider audience and stared to cross ethnic lines.

The word itself is a combination of the the words "black" and "exploitation", and was coined in the early 1970s by the "Los Angeles National Association for the Advancement of Colored People" "N.A.A.C.P." head, and one time film publicist Junius Griffin.

Blaxploitation films fully deserve a mention on a site like this one, they were the first to feature full soundtracks of funk and soul music as well as primarily black casts, this was groundbreaking and outrageous for its day.

Defining the genre

When set in the Northeastern United States or the West Coast of the United States, Blaxploitation films are mainly set in poor/run down neighborhoods. They included Ethnic slurs against White people, coining such phrases as "cracker" and "honky," as well as other derogatory names. Blaxploitation films that were set in the Southern United States, often included story lines that dealt with Slavery in the United States and Miscegenation.

Miscegenation dictionary definition;-

  • 1 - marriage or cohabitation between two people of different races, especially, in the U.S., between a Black and a White person.
  • 2 - interbreeding between members of different races.
  • 3 - the mixing or a mixture of races by interbreeding.

Following the example set by an early Blaxploitation movie, Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, many Blaxploitation films featured Funk, Soul and Jazz soundtracks, that featured heavy bass, funky beats, and guitars pumped through a wah-wah pedal. These soundtracks became notable for having a degree of complexity that was not common to the radio-friendly Funk tracks of the 1970s, they also featured rich orchestration and instruments that were rarely used in Funk or Soul such as the flute and the violin. Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song soundtrack was performed by, an at the time not very well known, Earth Wind and Fire

Following that popularity and influence from blaxploitation films in the 1970s, other films genres began to feature African American characters, these characters featured stereotypical blaxploitation characteristics, such as the Harlem underworld characters in the 1973 Bond film Live and Let Die, Jim Kelly's character in Enter the Dragon also from 1973, and Fred Williamson's character in The Inglorious Bastards (1978). This all helped to bring more and more freedom to the African American community and quite probably helped get the ball rolling on the breaking down of boundaries between races.

Stereotypes

The genre's role in exploring and shaping race relations in the USA has been controversial. While some held that the Blaxploitation trend was a token of black empowerment, the movies were also accused by others of perpetuating Stereotypes of African Americans in the United States. 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.

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 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 began to focus on black urban life in their movies, particularly Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing and John Singleton's Boyz n the Hood, among many others. These films made use of some of the elements of Blaxploitation, but also incorporated criticism of the genre's glorification of stereotypical "criminal" behavior.

Later influence and media references

Blaxploitation films have had an enormous and complicated influence on American cinema. Quentin Tarantino is a noted fan of exploitation film, for example, he 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), the 2009 remake of Inglourious Basterds and Undercover Brother from 2002, as well as Tarantino's classic Jackie Brown (1997), Kill Bill (2003), and Death Proof from 2007 all include pop culture references to the Blaxploitation genre.

The parody Undercover Brother, for example, stars Eddie Griffin as an afro-topped agent for a clandestine organisation 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, there's also Foxxy Cleopatra from the 1977 parody film The Kentucky Fried Movie, in a famous scene from Reservoir Dogs, the main characters engage in a brief discussion regarding Get Christie Love!, a mid-1970s blaxploitation television series. There's also a scene in True Romance where the characters are seen viewing the movie The Mack.

John Singleton's 2000 remake of Shaft, starring Samuel L. Jackson, could be seen as a modern-day interpretation of a classic Blaxploitation movie. The 1997 film Hoodlum starring Laurence Fishburne, portrays the fictional story of a 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 was based on the true story of heroin dealer Frank Lucas and takes place in the early 1970s in Harlem, it includes many elements similar in style to blaxploitation films, specifically when the theme Across 110th Street is played.

Music culture influence

Blaxploitation films have caused a profound impact on contemporary Hip Hop. Several prominent Hip Hop artists including Snoop Dogg, Big Daddy Kane, Ice-T and Slick Rick, 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, the most commercially known being 50 Cent's hit single "P.I.M.P."

Many of these artists and have also embraced the pimp image in their music videos, by including entourages of scantily-clad women, flashy jewelry (aka Bling), and luxury Cadillacs (aka pimpmobiles). Perhaps the most famous scene of The Mack, featuring the "Annual Players Ball", has become an often-referenced pop culture icon. The genre's overseas influence extends to artists such as Norway's Hip Hop duo 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 and Slaughter's Big Rip-Off.

Cultural references and parodies

The notoriety of the Blaxploitation genre has led to many humorous and satirical parodies.

The earliest attempts to mock the genre, was Ralph Bakshi's movie "Coonskin" and Rudy Ray Moore's "Dolemite", these date back to the genre's heyday in 1975. "Coonskin" tried to deconstruct racial stereotypes, taking in everything from an early minstrel show to the more recent stereotypes found in Blaxploitation movies.

However, the work caused great controversy even before its release when it was challenged by the Congress of Racial Equality, although it did soon developed a cult following with black viewers. Dolemite was less serious in tone and was produced as a spoof, it centers around a sexually active black pimp played by "Rudy Ray Moore" and the movie was based on his stand-up comedy act, the film was followed by its 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".


Robert Townsend, an actor, created a comedy "Hollywood Shuffle" which features a young black actor who is tempted to take part in a white-produced Blaxploitation film.

Fox Entertainment Group aka the FOX network television comedy, "MADtv", has frequently spoofed the Rudy Ray Moore "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, "Dr. Funkenstein" and "Condoleezza Rice" as Blaxploitation superheros. 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 a nod to a similar scene in the 1974 movie "Foxy Brown", in which Pam Grier hides a revolver in her Afro.

Adult Swim's series, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, has a recurring character called "Boxy Brown" - a play on "Foxy Brown". The imaginary friend of "Meatwad, Boxy Brown is a cardboard box with a crudely drawn face and a goatee, that dons an afro Whenever Boxy speaks, this instantly cues ’70s Funk music, (typical of Blaxploitation films). The cardboard box also has a confrontational attitude and "Jive 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". Dick behaves much like the original Max Payne, but wears an afro and mustache, and speaks in with African American Vernacular.

"Jefferson Twilight"' a character in "The Venture Bros", is a parody of the comic-book character Blade (an African American, 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 a little 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" and "Love Blactually". These parodies occasionally feature a Blaxploitation style stereotyped version of "Peter Griffin".

Internal Links

Blaxploitation Filmography
Blaxploitation Music