Vanity Fear

A Pretentious A**hole's Guide to B-Movie Bullsh*t


is for Blaxploitation

In 1971 Hollywood made a shocking discovery--black people went to the movies too. The two films that allowed them to reach this conclusion were Shaft and Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song. The first was a studio picture, the second was made independently and both would have a tremendous impact on the entire decade. It turned out that "urban" audiences were desperate to see images of themselves onscreen and went to the movies more often than their less-"urban" contemporaries. The result was a genre unto itself given the controversial name of Blaxploitation. Though most often associated with low-budget action films, Blaxploitation encompassed virtually every known genre, including horror, westerns, musicals, melodrama, romance, and comedy.

Blaxploitation faced criticism both as an overall concept and for its content. Some of those who participated in the making of the films bristled at the notion that they and their audience were some how being "exploited". They argued that for the first time black actors had the chance to play leading roles in mainstream films and black audiences now had characters they could identify with. How was that exploitation? The answer to this came from (mostly white liberal) critics who argued that Blaxploitation films placed too much of an emphasis on negative cultural stereotypes and featured many films made by white writers and directors in which the black protagonists were pimps, hookers, drug dealers, addicts, thieves, con men and other kinds of anti-heroes that helped perpetuate urban criminality rather than serve as an uplifting respite from it.

As is often the cases in these situations, both points of view were entirely valid. These films did allow many talented black actors to play roles they had never played before and never would again, but too often these roles did require them to enact a white scenarist's skewed view of a culture they obviously didn't understand.

Today, Blaxploitation is fondly remembered more for its dated fashion and  slang than the actual quality of the film's themselves. Parodies of the genre, such as the hilarious Black Dynamite, are invariably more affectionate than biting. And though the genre petered out at the beginning of the 80s, largely due to the rise of suburban multiplexes and a general dissatisfaction with the overall quality of the films, its influence remains today and can be seen in any urban action film starring the latest rapper looking to expand upon his record career.


is for Blaxploitation