The Blaxploitation genre of film, which emerged in the early 1970s and became one of the most popular forms of entertainment among African Americans, radically challenged the integrationist norms of the civil rights movement by featuring characters who engage in non-respectable behaviors as criminals, drug dealers, pimps and prostitutes. The NAACP derided the films as “proliferating offenses” that would set back the mission of achieving full citizenship for African Americans.
But in addition to being enormously popular among black audiences, Blaxploitation films have been hailed by some for being the first in American cinema to portray black characters as heroes rather than sidekicks, villains, or victims of oppression. Blaxploitation films, which were the first to feature soundtracks of funk and soul music, have also been praised for their realistic portrayal of urban ghettos and for presenting black culture as complex, diverse, and full of pleasures forbidden in formal America.
We see the influences of Blaxploitation across contemporary American popular culture, from the films of Quentin Tarantino (who has cited Blaxploitation movies as his primary influence) to contemporary fashion, which borrows liberally from the Blaxploitation aesthetic, and the countless hip-hop songs that reference the genre.
In this 3-part webinar, we will examine seven of the most influential and important Blaxploitation films, as well as their legacies in American culture:
- Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song
- The Spook Who Sat By The Door
- Cleopatra Jones
- The Mack
- Car Wash