DAR Films: The Blaxploitation Era

By @TrueGodImmortal

Years ago, before the film industry was constructed the way that it is, there was a bit of separation, for the betterment of the industry. As the 1970s were thriving and the culture was being shaped, a new genre and style of films were being brought to our attention. This was an attempt to make films that appealed to the black audience in the mainstream, but in their own way. This wasn't a forced attempt at films that we couldn't enjoy or identify with, and it was a far cry from some of the films we had been a part of prior to this. This was a new era and a set of films would spawn that changed the way black cinema was consumed and enjoyed. This era was called the Blaxploitation era, and soon enough, the world would take to this style and attempt to duplicate it in their way (as always). What makes the Blaxploitation era so special? It was essentially willing to go where most films hadn't gone before, showcasing black kung fu films, black horror films, and even black crime films, which was the basis of many of the films. The genre was criticized for the glorification (so to speak) of the slums and the drug riddled worlds that we lived in, but it was just a reflection and entertainment. Usually over the top, exaggerated, and just good fun, Blaxploitation films were important and left an impact. Let's take a brief look back at some of the films from that era that really made an impact and why they live on today in many of the films you watched and love.

*Shaft (1971)

-One of the most popular Blaxploitation films of all time, this film stars Richard Roundtree as the titular badass detective who would spawn one of the most profitable Blaxploitation series ever. He was hired to find a crime lord's daughter, but what follows in this film is interesting in its own right, as he finds himself square in the middle of a Harlem gang war, but Shaft never faces any real danger. If anything, that is my favorite part of the Blaxploitation genre is that the baddest heroes never are in any real danger and even when they seem to be, you never get the sense of doom, and that is definitely more prevalent with Shaft than any other Blaxploitation film.

*Sweet Sweetback's Baadassss Song (1971)

-The Van Peebles family actually used to be untouchable at one point, at least in my mind. This film is a big reason why. It has the funniest premise ever (I'm going to say that about a number of these films), but where it excels is that it actually has a good amount of political and social commentary and was an independent Blaxploitation film that in many ways broke the mold of the genre.

*Blacula (1972)

-In what is still a hilarious premise to me, an African prince gets turned into a vampire by Count Dracula and locked in a coffin for 300 years. When he emerges again, things have changed for certain and he goes on a bloodthirsty spree. When he encounters a woman that looks similar to his wife from centuries ago, he attempts to make her his own. This doesn't go as planned by Blacula, but I will say, despite being a campy style of movie, it has its moments of funny and the vampire's victims show up in various ways.

*Trick Baby (1972)

-Recently, a scene from this movie has made the rounds based on the dialogue within it. The scene in question is extremely prevalent and relevant to today's society and a big part of that is centered around the fact that this is a film based on Iceberg Slim's novel. It gives a glimpse into the world of Philly and also provides numerous scenes full of social commentary that make you think even some 46 years later. That in itself is an incredible feat for any film, let alone a Blaxploitation one.

*Super Fly (1972)

-One of the most popular films from the era, Super Fly is a mix of all things good and bad about Blaxploitation films. Directed by Gordon Parks Jr., this is one of the most iconic films in the genre and the fact that they are doing an "updated" version of it says a lot about the legacy of the film. Though the "new" version looks horrible, the original is still good money all around. A dealer is looking to make a big move so that he can get out of the dope game, because things are getting far too hot. When you take into consideration that this film not only has one of the most epic soundtracks (Curtis Mayfield made a classic), but also a legendary performance from Ron O'Neal, then there is no question that Superfly is at least top 5 in the Blaxploitation genre, more likely top 3.

*Hell Up In Harlem (1973)

-Another classic gem that many people loved, this sequel to Black Caesar stars Fred Williamson as Tommy Gibbs yet again, who managed to survived his assassination attempt at the end of the previous film and is trying to get back on his feet. What follows is a web of deceit and lies meant to tear apart the organization and the relationship between Tommy and his father, among other things. This film is actually well done, though of course, on current viewings, everything is funny now. When I first saw this film years ago, I was entertained and that's all you can ask for from a Blaxploitation movie.

*Coffy (1973)

-So, as a kid, I saw this movie. I probably shouldn't have, but someone in my family had the VHS and I wanted to watch it. Simply put, Pam Grier was the ONE back in those days. The right amount of sexy with the right appeal, and she wasn't afraid to flaunt it..... much like she did in this movie. This was her breakout role and rightfully so. Sure, you wouldn't expect to see her win any awards for this performance, but Pam as the titular character looking to avenge her sister provides us with enough badass moments that you are entertained throughout.

*Dolemite (1973)

-I could only imagine if these films were released today, how would they be received. That is a thought that crossed my head while writing this one. However, it is what it is, and for the time period, this was a classic. Rudy Ray Moore lived as Dolemite in the eyes of many for the last 40 years, so that should let you how impactful this role was.

*The Mack (1973)

-The apex. The best. The GOAT. Call it what you want, but The Mack is legendary. Max Julien plays the role of a lifetime, starring as "The Mack" aka Goldie, a man who returns from a five year prison bid with other intentions. His brother is immersed in black nationalism, but Goldie takes a different path (I get the criticism on Blaxploitation films, and this is a big reason) and gets into the game. The film chronicles a rise and a fall, and features a solid performance by Richard Pryor as Slim, though his character meets an unfortunate end. The story definitely has ups and downs, but the film is entertaining, and of course, the soundtrack by Willie Hutch is one of the best of all time hands down.

*Uptown Saturday Night (1974)

-Now, when we speak of movies and remakes.... I actually would like to see this remade with two classic actors of today. Now, you might not be too familiar with why this movie is so special, but this is a film that inspired so many artists and pieces of pop culture. Sidney Poitier and Bill Cosby team up to be one of the most potent and entertaining duos in black film as they search for a stolen lottery ticket. The premise is hilarious, but the film itself is one of my favorite Blaxploitation movies and has solid acting, which is more than you could ask for from the genre.

*Black Belt Jones (1974)

-Capitalizing on the popularity of Jim Kelly in Enter The Dragon it seems, this film showcased Jim as a badass who is out to get revenge and take no names after his mentor was murdered by the mafia. Jim Kelly is actually a huge part of the Blaxploitation wave, as his roles in this film and Three The Hard Way are both classic and two of the best overall performances (despite his overacting at times). He was entertaining and believable as a badass who knew how to utilize kung fu, and if anything, this film showcased how well casted he was in Enter The Dragon.

*Cooley High (1975)

-A movie that has become rooted in pop culture for years is still a favorite for many. This film looked at the lives of high school kids in the inner city and the problems that surrounded them. It is light hearted in certain moments, with a good balance of drama and comedy throughout until a tragic moment that is never forgotten comes along. Cooley High is probably the best of the Blaxploitation films in terms of acting and execution, and has one of the most impactful fictional deaths in movie history, at least in my opinion.



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