Black History Month Tribute - Blaxpoitation Films
Fred Williamson aka Black Ceasar
"Who was Being Exploited? Certainly Not Me" - Fred Williamson
Many readers may wonder why I would include this genre into my Black History month tribute. The truth is that without these works (note sans the term art) Blacks would not be where they are today in the entertainment industry. Current producers, directors, writers and actors of Afro-American ancestry made it by standing on the shoulders of these films.
Exploitation By Any Other Name . . .
Exploitation seems to be in the eye of the beholder, as you can see from the Fred Williamson quote above. Actor, screenwriter and director Oscar Williams (Five on the Black Hand Side, Black Belt Jones and Truck Turner ) is quoted as saying; "Why wasn't Death Wish seen as "whitesploitation"? How come only the films for African-Americans were singled out as being sexist and violent?" Excellent question, it seems that no one questioned the violence and sexism of these action films until Blacks appeared on the scene.
In the1960s major Hollywood studios were suffering a hangover from a two decade court battle with the Justice Department regarding theater monopolies.
Television, in it's infancy, became a major contributor in reducing box office proceeds as the citizenry realized they need not leave home to be entertained. Also theater goers interest in war movies, musicals and westerns was quickly waning placing a strangle hold on studio coffers.
The Civil Rights movement coupled with the studio’s run of bad luck produced the demon spawn of Blaxpoitation Films. Why? Because bigwigs of the industry suddenly realized that there was an untapped bankable audience . . the Afro-American.
Tamara Dobson aka Cleopatra Jones
Blaxportation Film Recipe . .
Small bankroll, cheap sets, two week production turn time, producers, writers, directors and actors with limited to no experience. When these films first burst onto the screen they were in a word .. horrid and stayed that way.
Characters were shallow made up of pimps whores, drug kingpins, drug dealers, drug addicts, racist mob bosses, politicians and rogue cops. Plots were predictable and campy. Scripts were horribly written and equally horribly delivered. General theme of vengeance (against "the man"), violence and sexism. Most of the scripts were liberally sprinkled with urban slang, the "N" word, much needed cursing, much hand slapping and fist bumping. Giving a racist impression that Black's speak in Ebonics or slang twenty-four seven totally ignorant of the kings English.
Wardrobe and music seem to be the only things that were spared no expense. Many times the music made the film. Best examples; Shaft whose soundtrack won Issac Hayes an Academy Award, and the soundtrack from Superfly which went platinum for Curtis Mayfield who wrote all the songs and music for the soundtrack. With all this said these movies were a Godsend to the Afro-American population. We were in awe to see so many people, who look like us, up there on the big screen. Lack of self imagery can make a people feel invisible. These movies, as campy as they were, were much needed to bolster Black self-esteem and pride back in the day.
Blaxpoitation Films at Amazon
My personal favorite!
In My Music, My Plays, My Films, I Want to Carry Always This Central Idea: to be African - Paul Robeson
Despite the low budgets, substandard plot lines and scripts these productions were essential to Blacks. They served as rungs of a ladder to the betterment of our communities through self imagery and to show our young that anything is possible. That regardless of your environment you can become anyone or seek out any career path that you desire. In this land the world is your oyster.
One must crawl before you can walk, taking small baby steps on the road to success. To those who demonize some of our modern day vehicles as minstrel I disagree. Today's producers still have problems securing funding for proposed projects. Not many lenders or private investors are willing to bankroll minority entertainment productions. Once an opening has been made an entrepreneur must take advantage to become a bankable commodity. After all the industry is not just about showcasing art, but is a business first and foremost.
These "bottom rung" movies assisted many talented persons to climb the ladder of success and reach new heights in the entertainment industry. Stephanie Bray, John Singleton, Ice Cube, Tyler Perry, Effie T. Brown, Debra Martin Chase, Oprah Winfrey and Spike Lee . . just to name a few.
The aforementioned "exploitation" films, have been responsible for such hits as; The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Precious, Do The Right Thing, Barbershop (series), Fridays (series), The Players Club. Real Women Have Curves, Hustle and Flow, Medea's Family Reunion, For Colored Girls Only, I Can Do Bad All By Myself, Why Did I Get Married? (1 & 2) . . . again just to name a few.
You Must Define Your Own Life. Don’t Let Other People Write Your Script. - Oprah Winfrey
This is why these so called "exploitation" films were so important in the growth of my people as a race. The majority of these works were produced by whites, giving their interpretation and spin on the lives of Afro-Americans. It's stupid to bitch, moan and groan about how others portray you. If you want the story told correctly you need to do it yourself.
Without these inept, campy movies, with their predictable plots and comic book air, we would not have the amazing Afro-American talent in today's industry. Tyler Perry had a vision of owning his own production studio, which he did in 2008. The Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta, 200,000 acres of studio and office space; Oprah Winfrey recently started the OWN channel in 2011, Cathy Hughes, owner of Radio One and 70 other radio stations, TVone and board member of BET.
I'd like to state that Spike Lee is not saying that African American culture is just for black people alone to enjoy and cherish. Culture is for everybody. Spike Lee
More by this Author
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Cathay Williams the only documented Afro American woman to enter the Army disguised as a man, and the only documented female Buffalo Soldier.
Dorthy Dandridge Afro-American Movie Star.