Welcome to the Weekly Movie Thread, your home on the Avocado to discuss, recommend, and discover films!
This year marks the 50th anniversary of two titans of the blaxploitation genre. Sweet Sweetback’s Baadassssss Song is considered by many to be the very first blaxploitation film. (Roger Ebert doesn’t think so mainly because of the ending, which I will not spoil here.). The other is the Black private dick who’s a hit with all the chicks.
I am of course, talking about Shaft.
Blaxploitation provided African American audiences with a hero they hadn’t seen before: someone who was a victim of America’s very real injustices, but didn’t assimilate or get beaten down. The hero stuck it to The Man. They played by their rules.
The genre made stars of Richard Roundtree, Pam Grier, and Rudy Ray Moore. It was a world of pimps, kung fu, detectives, antebellum slavery, zombies, avenging disco godfathers, and Blackulas. The movies made use of funk and soul jazz. Isaac Hayes would be the first African American to win the Academy’s Best Original Song aways with his “Theme from Shaft.” We can dig it.
Huey Newton, co-founder of the Black Panthers, was a huge fan of Sweet Sweetback. He wrote that it “presents the need for unity among all members and institutions within the community of victims.” The film became required viewing for Black Panther members.
Note everyone was onboard. The NAACP, along with other organizations, came together to form the Coalition Against Blaxploitation. The films, they claimed, promoted stereotypes that white people already had about African Americans.”here are writers and actors who claim that freedom for the artist entails exploitation of the very people to whom they owe their artistic existence,” write Addison Gayle.
The genre would go on to influence hip-hop artists, would would incorporate the hero’s swagger and fashion choices. The genre has reached a mythical status. It still lives in a way: the periodic Shaft revivals, Black Dynamite, Dolemite Is My Name, and pretty much all of Quentin Tarantino’s ouvre.
Today’s prompt: What are your thoughts on blaxploitation? Do you have a favorite blaxplotiation film, or film based on the genre?
Next week: new classics