Shafted! #4: Blaxploitation Cinema

Before you point it out: Yes, I see the humor in saying blaxploitation cinema was "shafted" (as in "Shut your mouth! I'm talkin' 'bout Shaft!").  But there's nothing funny about the way African American film was given a debilitating kick in the crotch by, of all people, the NAACP!  The films were accused of creating negative stereotypes, protested against, and summarily removed from theaters. 

Guys like Fred Williamson, a popular blaxploitation actor, were saying WTF? We finally have a genre of cinema that we can call our own, and it employs tons of black actors and movie crews.... and the the NAACP takes it away from us!  

Personally, I view this as a travesty. You didn't see Caucasian groups boycotting Stallone- Seagal- Schwarzenegger because they portrayed whites in a violent light.  No, they let them do their thing and get filthy stinking rich in the process..... something Richard Roundtree, Fred Williamson, and Pam Grier were not allowed to do.

For those of you naysayers who think it was a good thing to shut these films down, consider the following points.

1.  Perhaps the pimps, hustlers, and hoes weren't stereotypes, but rather a real reflection of the crime ridden urban neighborhoods.  Should they have made all their movies like The Cosby Show, a pretend alternate universe far removed from reality?
2. If you actually WATCH these films, you'll quickly discover that there's always a very moral to the story.  The young black man who decides to get rich pimping and selling drugs always ends up paying a heavy price, and often makes a positive turnaround.
3. As I mentioned, these films employed hundreds and hundreds of black actors and movie crews.  They may have been shut out of mainstream Hollywood, but folks like Pam Grier and Ron O'Neal found a venue in the ghettos across America.
4. These films had EXCELLENT soundtracks.  It was a wonderful opportunity to promote black music, and names like Curtis Mayfield and Isaac Hayes profited from it.

And have you looked in theaters these  days?  I just don't understand it.  It seems like black people are only allowed to play in comedies..... literally EVERY African American movie is a goofy comedy! How is okay for them to constantly play buffoons, but they were forbidden to play empowered badasses givin' it to "the man"?  I won't say a racist conspiracy is at work here, but it certainly makes you wonder what the hell is going on.


  1. I was about as whitebread as you could get in the early seventies but i loved the blaxploitation genre! Even talked my old-school racist dad into seeing SHAFT with me and he liked it! Looking at them today on cable and DVD, there were some genuinely well-made low-budget films there, too. Williamson started out as an also-ran but became as charismatic as anyone in the business. He paid attention and learned to write, produce and direct, all on or under budget. A lot of African-American stage actors got their first film exposure in these films, too, including Ron (SUPERFLY) O'Neil. You also saw a lot of the old-time black stars working again and well-deserved starring roles for the great Godfrey Cambridge and others. Black people liked 'em, white people liked 'em. Somebody needs to write a book.

  2. There were a lot of powerful, independent female characters in those movies and that positive aspect of the blaxploitation genre in the 70s often gets overlooked.

  3. There's a really good history called "The Adventures of Amos 'n' Andy" by Melvin Patrick Ely that describes something similar that happened with that long-running radio & short-running TV series. Even though the radio A & A were played by white guys doing a kind of minstrel act, they had quite a few black fans, because at least it was SOME kind of depiction of African American life. In the 50s they adapted it for TV, with an all-black cast, but the NAACP protested the still somewhat stereotypical humor and got it off the air. But the upshot was that there wasn't another show with an all or mostly black cast until the 70s.
    As with blaxploitation movies, the protesters probably had some legitimate complaints, but I'd agree that problematic representation is better than no representation.

  4. When I was in the Army in the mid 80s, my roommate was from inner-city Cleveland. I said something about wanting to watch Shaft.
    "What's it about?" I asked.
    "It's about a Black man the f***s White women and kills White men. Still want to see it?"
    "Uh... I don't know."

  5. I don't often comment, and there's no reason per se for me to comment on this one, but thank you for providing hours of enjoyment, links, commentary, and analysis.

  6. I love a lot of the Blaxploitation movies mainly because they were so well made considering the budgets they were made on. No one can say that Richard Roundtree wasn't a genuinely charismatic movie star and action hero and that Shaft...and the arguably better Shaft's Big Score...aren't excellent scripts done with full gusto by a talented cast and crew.

    I know some people on another movie review website forum who complain that the Bond movie Live and Let Die is extremely racist. The black cast walked straight from Blaxploitation movies to a big budget James Bond movie to reach an even bigger audience and to show what they could do. Instead of complaining that they're cast as villains, they should realise they were cast as Bond villains; one of the highest accolades there is in popular movies. Yaphet Kotto stands alongside Donald Pleasance, Telly Savalas, Robert Shaw, Christopher Lee, Christopher Walken, Jonathan Pryce, Curt Jurgens...you name them!

    Oh, and what about the lovingly done tribute to the genre in Black Dynamite? I think Blaxploitation movies are more offensive to maybe the chattering middle classes than to African-Americans.

  7. While I'm quite a fan of the blacksploitation flicks, the comparison to white-guy action movies isn't really valid--if you're white, you have way more films/TV to choose from.
    As the late comics writer Dwayne McDuffie put it, if you have a limited number of characters or character types, it's harder to judge films/comics on their own merits because there will always be lots of people who don't fit the mold.

  8. As a Kid in the Early 1970's, my favorite TV Show was "Get Christie Love" - !! Now as far as that Pimpin & Hustlin, ya, where do I sign up, to put in an Application ?? I'm headin to my nearest Job Service and apply for that Job , now !

  9. i think that maybe the reason there arent more movies today like Black Samson or The Avenging Godfather of the Disco is because of the arguably sad fact that, even though theyre cool, theyre also a joke.. just sayin. just netflix Black Dynamite or Im Gunna Git you Sucka and youll be able to see how Blaxploitation cinema has become synonomous with comedy, simply because of the poor quality of the films.
    I think that its a good thing that Blaxploitation is dead.. I mean, its right in the word.. "Exploitation" ..and it created very negative stereotypes that still linger. You have to admitt at some point that alot of these movies portrayed Black folks as violent, amoral sex pots that are so dumb that no matter how rich they are they still live in the ghetto. just the poor acting and production value of the films themselves created an air of ineptitude and stupidity that made people think that anybody that would like them would be equally dumb and poor. these movies are making fun of black people to their faces. and theyre still doing it with tyler perry movies! I think theyre a slap in the face to the intelligence of all black people. that being said, I still enjoy these movies because I think theyre unbelieveably hilarious! they also have a unique quality to them that comes out of the poor production..low to no budget movies all have an absurd surreal psychedelic quality to them that can only be attributed to their ineptitude. GOD BLESS B-Movies!! night of the living dead would have never been as incredibly creepy if it had been a big budget hollywood film.
    While I enjoy B-films very much, and I like some of these films.. I have to be honest and say that they certainly never communicated strength and power to me. why look to super fly or shaft when a person can look to the real great men like King and Evers. NOW They were real Men with REAL STRENGTH!
    thats my two bits on the subject..