By the dawn of the 1970’s, the major Hollywood studios found themselves facing near-bankruptcy, both financially and creatively. The old system just wasn’t keeping pace with the times: more and more people turned to television rather than the movies, since they no longer seemed to see themselves or their concerns represented on the Silver Screen.
Of course, Black America had never really seen its interests represented in mainstream movies — if the Black experience did show up on screen, it was almost always filtered through the eyes of, say, Gregory Peck or Spencer Tracy. That’s why it came as a shock to Hollywood when they realized the biggest profits of the early 70’s were going to movies made for that vast, under-appreciated Black audience… movies like Ossie Davis’s Cotton Comes to Harlem or Melvin van Peebles’s Sweet Sweetback’s BaadAsssss Song. Suddenly it seemed like a good idea to give Black viewers what they wanted.
The movies that followed made stars of Black actors… brought attention to Black issues… gained a foothold in the industry for talented Black artists of many kinds… and paved the way for the serious Black Cinema that arose a decade later. But the producers, directors and/or writers of these movies were still — more often than not — white guys. This fact, plus the movies’ emphasis on violence, sex, drugs and crime, prompted civil rights leaders to coin a new word to condemn the Soul Cinema of the 70’s: BLAXPLOITATION! A term that’s been extended to almost all the Black-themed movies of the era.
Some of these Blaxploitation movies were genuinely respectful of Black American culture. Others at least had their hearts (and fists, and other body parts) in the right place. And some, in spite of their Black casts, were pure jive-ass honky bulls#!%. Yet taken all together, in their strengths and weaknesses, they represent some of the most vivid and memorable movies ever made. So join the B-Masters through the month of May, as they celebrate Blaxploitation movies from every part of the bell curve. It’s…