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Fri, 04.23.1971

Blaxploitation in American Media, a story

*Blaxploitation in media (video/film) is affirmed on this date in 1971. Often called blacksploitation is an ethnic subgenre of the exploitation film that emerged in the United States during the early 1970s.

The films, while popular, endured backlash for disproportionate numbers of stereotypical film characters showing bad or questionable motives, including most roles as criminals resisting arrest. However, the genre ranks first in which Black characters and communities are the heroes and subjects of film and television rather than sidekicks, villains, or victims of brutality.  The genre's inception coincided with rethinking race relations in the 1970s. 

Blaxploitation films were originally aimed at an urban African American audience, but the genre's audience appeal soon broadened across racial and ethnic lines. Hollywood realized the potential monetary profit of expanding the audiences of blaxploitation films across those racial lines.  The genre's role in exploring and shaping race relations in the United States has been debated. Some held that the blaxploitation trend was a token of black empowerment, but others accused the movies of perpetuating common white stereotypes about black people.

As a result, many called for the end of the genre. The NAACPSouthern Christian Leadership Conference, and National Urban League joined to form the Coalition Against Blaxploitation. Their influence in the late 1970s contributed to the genre's demise. Literary critic Addison Gayle wrote in 1974, "The best example of this kind of nihilism/irresponsibility are the Black films; here is freedom pushed to its most ridiculous limits; 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."  

Variety credited Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song and the less radical, Hollywood-financed film Shaft (both released in 1971) with the invention of the blaxploitation genre.  Blaxploitation films were also the first to feature funk and soul music soundtracks.  Blaxploitation films have had an enormous and complicated influence on American cinema. For example, filmmaker and exploitation film fan Quentin Tarantino has made numerous references to the blaxploitation genre in his films. An early blaxploitation tribute can be seen in the character of "Lite," played by Sy Richardson, in Repo Man (1984). Richardson later wrote Posse (1993), a kind of blaxploitation Western. 

Some of the later blaxploitation-influenced movies such as Jackie Brown (1997), Undercover Brother (2002), Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002), Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003), and Django Unchained (2012) feature pop culture nods to the genre. The parody Undercover Brother, for example, stars Eddie Griffin as an afro-topped agent for a clandestine organization satirically known as the "B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D.." Likewise, Austin Powers in Goldmember co-stars Beyoncé Knowles as the Tamara Dobson/Pam Grier-inspired heroine, Foxxy Cleopatra. In the 1977 parody film The Kentucky Fried Movie, a mock trailer for Cleopatra Schwartz depicts another Grier-like action star married to a rabbi.

In a famous scene in Reservoir Dogs, the protagonists discuss Get Christie Love!, a mid-1970s blaxploitation television series. In the catalytic scene of True Romance, the characters watch the movie The Mack. The 1997 film Hoodlum starring Laurence Fishburne, portrayed a fictional account of Black mobster Ellsworth "Bumpy" Johnson and recasts gangster blaxploitation with a 1930s twist. In 2004, Mario Van Peebles released Baadasssss!, about making his father's movie (Mario plays his father). 2007's American Gangster, based on the story of heroin dealer Frank Lucas, takes place in the early 1970s in Harlem and has many elements similar in style to blaxploitation films, specifically, it is a prominent feature of the song "Across 110th Street".  John Singleton's Shaft (2000), starring Samuel L. Jackson, was a modern-day interpretation of a classic blaxploitation film. 

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