BaaadAaass Cinema (2002), directed by Isaac Julien gave several actors, directors and film critics’ interpretation on Blaxploitation films. In this documentary, Blaxploitation was described as “a commercial-minded film of the seventies for black audiences.” Black and/or white people directed these films, but they were made with black actors/actress for a black audience. Blaxploitation films were made to enhance the black community and promote the individuals involved. Although they did do this, these films also had a negative effect. In his book “Framing Blackness,” Ed Guerrero says this about Blaxploitation; “the epithet is usually associated with the production of the sixty or so Hollywood films that centered on black narratives, featured black cast playing out various action-adventures in the ghetto, and were released roughly between 1969 and 1974.” These films exploited black men, women and children while portraying them in a negative and stereotypical way.
Ed Guerrero would agree that although Blaxploitation films were very successful, they portrayed the black community negatively. He states; “Blaxploitation might as easily and accurately describe the cruel injustice of slavery or, for that matter, much of the historical sojourn of black folks in America.” So many people worked hard to get blacks from under the control of ‘the white man,’ but once they agreed to do these films they were right back under ‘his’ control again. It may be true that black people and Blaxploitation films saved Hollywood, but after Hollywood made a comeback, they kicked all of these black directors, actors, etc. out our their behinds. It’s good that they got fame and fortune from these films, but not everyone knows that black people did this for Hollywood. They don’t know that they’re the reason that Hollywood is still so successful today. They just see them on screen acting ignorant and come to the conclusion that all blacks are the same way.
Films such as Foxy Brown, Coffy and Black Mama White Mama were very popular in 70s. These films features protagonist women like Pam Grier; Grier roles in these films always varied; she’d be everything from a police officer, to a prostitute to a murderer. Grantland states; Grier “karate-chopped people. She shot people. She cursed people out. She dunked their heads in barrels of powdered pool chlorine. She seduced for sport, for information, because it made bad men blissfully unaware that she was about to murder them. She took out rapists, pimps, imperialists, chauvinists, bigots, and Blacula. Murder her boyfriend, sell deadly dope to her sister, try to steal her daddy’s business, and she’d get you with her sexual Trojan horse routine .” Grier was always a female protagonist action hero; which isn’t seen in a lot of action films today. Though this is what a protagonist does in action films, since Grier is African American and a woman she’s held to different standards then the men that’s usually featured in these films. Grier was evil and conniving in most of her films. She betrayed and was disloyal to her family members and she appeared nude in many of these films. Some people would categorize Grier as ruthless in these film. This is not saying Grier didn’t have a positive impact on some people, because she did. She was a black woman and had power and the audience loved that, but she didn’t always use her power in the best way.
Blaxploitation films are supposed to describe the lives of blacks during this time, but when a child is involved in one of these films and portrayed as a sex symbol, that crosses the line. Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song was directed by Melvin Van Peebles in 1971. This film feature Melvin Van Peebles as Sweetback; the protagonist who goes on the run after helping a member of The Black Panthers fight off two cops who were repeatedly beating him. Peebles exploited his own son in this movie; he appeared naked and engaged in sexual activity with a prostitute. Anyone who is not familiar with what went on the ghetto in the 1970s would believe that parents would let their children have sex with adults. Therefore this leads to the exploitation of black children.
Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song is said to be one of the movies that began the Blaxploitation movement. Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song features many themes that would become mainstays of the genre, including the effects of cruelty on the black population and the risky world of drugs, revolutionary groups and gangs. Audiences like this movie because the black man got away. In movies during this time the black men were always either captured or killed. A lot of these films give off political messages, but audience fail to see what the message is; only paying attention to the provocative sex scenes. In Baadasssss Cinema Ed Guerrero said he couldn’t even say for sure whether Sweetback was a revolutionary movie or just purely exploitation. Judging by the number of sex scenes shown in this movie, it’s fair to say that this movie in exploitation. Several people will go against this saying it is revolutionary. This movie was all about the sex, which is why it attracted so many people. Bell Hooks even said that Pebbles did all this just for the money.
Blaxploitation films featured black male protagonist who were usually shown under a negative light. In the Foxy Brown, Foxy’s brother put his own sister life in danger without thinking twice and he had no remorse after doing so. Her brother not old sold drugs, but he did them as well. Roles like the one played Foxy’s brother came as no surprise during this time. “The new black man represented in the Blaxploitation movies was very sexual and aggressive to the point where that became a defining factor of his character. The black man was portrayed either as a pimp/pusher/drug dealer or as a hypersexual buck and usually he was both. He was not completely committed to anything political but he could clean up the Ghetto and take on the establishment at any time. ” In Superfly, the protagonist was a black man who was a part of gang and a cocaine dealer who wants to get out of the drug because he realizes his life is at risk.
Although Blaxploitation films portray black communities negatively, it still has a positive impact on films. Blaxploitation directors today influence several directors, and they incorporate some of the themes from back then in their films today. Spike Lee’s; Do the right Thing released in 1989 can also considered a Blaxploitation film, although it came out some years later. This film had a mixture of races; Blacks, Italians, Hispanics and Asians were seen in this movie. This film was set in Brooklyn and featured several characters as their attitudes all collide on the hottest day of the year. Mookie is the main character in this film, but unlike other protagonist in Blaxploitation films he doesn’t have a huge problem. The ignorance of black characters in this movie is what stands out the most, a riot began and young man was killed because of pictures on a wall. In this film blacks are portrayed as either drunks, ignorant or just lazy.
Blaxploitation films were successful and a lot of these films are still talked about and/or quoted from today. Black people liked these films because it showed them being successful and having power. No matter the circumstances or the power the audience felt, these films were still exploitative. When women appear nude and having sex in front a dozens of people that’s exploitive. When a man allows his son to strip down naked and engage in sexual conduct that exploitive. The biggest issue with Blaxploitation is that it’s said to act out situations that occurred in the ghetto; none of the situation seen in these films is positive. That leads a person who was not from the ghetto in that day and age believe that all black people were disgraceful. During the 60’s and 70’s blacks didn’t understand how detrimental the films and the negative impact it had on the culture. Blaxploitation films are a momentous part of the filmmaking history. “They reflected some historical progress that blacks have made in the US. They helped to make the seventies a very prominent time for blacks. However, its use of sensationalism and exaggeration proved to do more harm than good. The artistic aspects of the black experience and culture were completely lost. Through these mis-representations, the image of blacks was redefined with new stereotypes and generalizations. Although we can lo ok back and enjoy some of the better qualities that exist within the movies, African Americans continue to struggle with the burden on these images today. ”