Black Samson, Black Shampoo, Black Dragon, Black Six, Black Jack, Black Belt Jones… Yes these are all films titles. Yes they do have the common denominator “Black”. Funky isn’t it? They all come from the same era of Black Exploitation, all in one combination Blaxploitation, during the 1970s to describe films that were targeted to African-Americans that had funky, soul soundtracks and usually featured drug dealers, pimps and hit men. The phrase “blaxploitation” came into being because many people thought that these films stereotyped black people in films and thus exploited them, add to that most of the blaxploitation movies were produced by white studios even though they had predominantly black casts.
In the early 90s I was 13 and just getting over both Superman and Batman obsessions when I came across the very first Blaxploitation film (and it wasn’t by its common denominator) the film Bucktown. The story is of a man who returns to bury his brother in his town of Buchanan. While there, he encounters corrupt cops, so he calls friends from the city to help him take them out. His only problem – the black gangsters now want control of the town. The film starred Fred Williamson (we’ll get to him later) and Pam Grier. Oh Pam… Oh Foxy girl… her perfect face, her out-of-this-world body, her perfect hairdo played a fine role in my first emotions of a girl in her early teens: I want makeup, I want an afro (no wait I had one so never mind!), I want breasts, I want curves… I want to be a woman! In fact, I dreamed that I was a Super Heroine, with the power to kick ass with my Afro hairdo and be a normal school girl during the day. And then when one of my friends was getting bullied at school or in the neighborhood, well I’d go secretly behind a building, comb my hair three times and transform into Super Afro-Girl and the bullies would get served. Clearly the side effects of DC Comics were kicking in. Well it all came in due time evolving into a full grown woman strictly physically speaking, but as for Super Heroine, still very in my head somewhere, still very much in my everyday life, hence the “funky funny” term I use often to describe something odd, for those who may have noticed… and yes a funky song is playing in my head right in that moment!
And I went from one vice to another, from superheroes to another genre of heroes. The 1970s was one of the most prolific times for Black movies. There was an enormous number of African-American films made during this time period, even though all of the Black movies made during this time don’t necessarily fit the strict definition of a Blaxploitation movie. From horror to thriller to action with a pinch of comedy thanks to campy scenes, here are the ones I’ve got in my dusty collection. I must admit some of them I had to scrape the barrel of the internet to find them, and oh glory my funds didn’t take a toll. Here have a seat, put on some funky music (may I please recommend the Funky Song of the Day Curtis Mayfield’s ‘Superfly’) and have a bit of Blaxperience.
Tagline: To Stop This Mutha, Takes One Bad Brutha.
Loosely based on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, it was released in 1973 during the period Blaxpoitation was also doing Horror Films. My adult critic side found it not that scary, not the campiest, but my childish eyes found it funny and sort of impressive. The plot revolves around a Vietnam veteran who loses his arms and legs when he steps on a land mine, but a surgeon is able to attach new limbs. Unfortunately everything goes wrong as a jealous assistant who has fallen in love with the veteran’s fiancee switches his DNA injections, transforming him into a gigantic killer… A no brainer fairly applies here!
Tagline : He’s black! He’s beautiful! He’s Blacula!
The poster itself says it all tagline-wise but the one underneath deserved its place too; it could be a ring announcer introduction tagline of a wrestler before his entrance on the ring. Released in 1972, this (very obvious) modern version of Dracula is presented in an interesting way: two antique collectors buy the coffin of an African prince bitten by Dracula centuries before and bring it back to Los Angeles. The African prince is released from the coffin and unleashed, feeding his hunger while following a woman who looks like his departed wife called Tina. Whilst watching it I couldn’t help it but make unrelated connections to Eddie Murphy in two characters, the African Prince coming to America and the Vampire in Brooklyn who seduces Angela Bassett who also portrayed Tina Turner. A special mention to Blacula mutton chops and eyebrows to make a Wolverine quite jealous. Surprisingly enough, the film didn’t suck!
Tagline: A screamin’ demon rages inside, turnin’ him into Mr Hyde… don’t give him no sass or he’ll kick yo’ ass!
Now it was either that or the too obvious “A Monster He Can’t Control Has Taken Over His Very Soul!”… even The Hulk would smash a table whilst laughing on that one and roar “durrrr doh!” Loosely based on the Robert Louis Stevenson novel “The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde”, released in 1972, the film tells the story of a notable scientist who develops a formula to regenerate dying liver cells, but it has the unfortunate after-effect of turning him into an albino vampire with a mania for killing prostitutes. I quite enjoyed the film, mostly for the police lieutenant investigating the murders and going on a hunt for the beast, he had memorable punch lines, such as “Brother man, this situation is rapidly becoming insalubrious… meaning: We’re about to stomp a mudhole in your ass!.” Can anyone tell me they can say these lines without a Samuel L. Jackson voice in the back of their head?
Tagline: Spine Shattering – Bone Blasting
It’s actually the very second Blaxploitation film I’ve ever watched, anecdote being it was in my big brother’s room when I fell “by chance” on the VHS, not to say I looking for his comics he used to hide in his bedroom to annoy me and my young brother. Well, I understand why this one was in his room anyway. Still the sexy lady is a superhero of her own. Her name is Diana Jackson, but you can call her T.N.T and she’s a karate expert. When her brother is killed by ruthless drug dealers, she goes to the most dangerous part of Chinatown to find the killer. From meeting a white drug lord to the suspicious Chinese assistant, from becoming lovers with the handsome assistant with criminal ambition to fighting criminals while completely nude and in the dark… call her Super-T.N.T., she’s da bomb!
Tagline: Cleo teaches drug traffickers the meaning of saying no!
(Aye!) One of the most notable and tallest badass female heroes of the Blaxploitation : Miss Cleopatra Jones (portrayed by the late Tamara Dobson). It certainly was a change as a lead black female in action films and empowerment, given the period it was made. Released in theatres as Dynamic Jones in 1973, Cleopatra Jones is a U.S. Special Agent assigned to crack down on drug-trafficking in the U.S. and abroad. After she burns a Turkish poppy field, the notorious drug-lord Mommy is furious at the loss of her supply and vows to destroy Cleopatra Jones, using her connections with bad cops on the force to cause trouble for Cleopatra’s friends and set her up for an attack. Cleopatra sure shall teach Mommy the meaning of no. A stylish, silly and wonderfully entertaining Cleo is always kung fu-ing someone or driving the hell out of her Corvette to get away from the bad guys. Also, there an interesting scene where she rides a motorcycle up a steep hill (and while back then I didn’t pay attention the first time I watched but if you happen to catch Cleopatra Jones on DVD or else, use pause on this scene and watch closely to see who is actually riding the motorcycle). As goofy as funky funny!
Tagline: She’s brown sugar and spice but if you don’t treat her nice she’ll put you on ice!
No need to introduce Pam Grier again, one of her most notable roles to this day. Following the steps of black female heroine success Cleopatra Jones, Foxy Brown was released in 1974, Foxy Brown, seeks revenge when her government agent boyfriend Michael is murdered by gangsters led by the kinky couple of Steve Elias and Miss Katherine, infiltrating their world as a high-class prostitute. This movie is so supa-badass, supa-violent and yet it’s supa-good! Pam Grier is great as the jive talkin’ lady who’s out for revenge. There’s no messin’ around with Foxy Brown! The clothes, the characters, and especially the talk (dig this, jive that) is so ’70’s it seems to be a parody… But it’s so good you’ll only snap your fingers to agree.
Did I also mention that the soundtrack was supa-great?
Quentin Tarantino is known for being heavily inspired by different genres which added to his personal style. Blaxploitation didn’t escape his eye and when developing the character of “Jackie Brown” it alludes to Foxy Brown in many ways. The film’s poster resembles Foxy Brown and includes quotes from the film. The typeface for the film’s opening titles was also used for those of Foxy Brown, and some of the background funky music is also to be noted, even though Jackie Brown is not a blaxploitation film.
Lastly, let’s point out that the character of Foxy Cleopatra from the Austin Powers film series is based on the characters of Foxy Brown and Cleopatra Jones.
Tagline: All He Needed Was One Last Deal…
He’s fly because he’s high! Released in 1972, Super Fly the main character here is Priest (played with super perfection by Ron O’Neal) who wants out of the drug business but wants to make one last score before he calls it quits. Along the way, he is hassled by the cops, former associates and not to mention those who want to settle a score with him, but in all he gets back at them towards the end. Super Fly is Super good, not just because Priest comes off as super-cool and super-sympathetic, but also there is no pimpin’ fabulousness here, the movie is constantly rooted in reality and seriousness, but also groovy and funky as only blaxploitation flicks can be. And add to that Curtis Mayfield’s stupendous score, playing over most of the film, call it supa-dupa-fly indeed!
Tagline: Fights the Syndicate With His Fists!
A dock worker becomes a prizefighter, but gets mixed up with a crooked manager. His manager tells him that he has to take a dive during an important fight, and to ensure his cooperation, his girlfriend is kidnapped. Technically speaking, this is a pretty well-made film. The acting is good yet the story is predictable and familiar. I can tell you’re going in for a punch for sure: where there is a Hulk Smash, there is a Hammer time!
My Macaroni Combat Hero, Fred Williamson – like Western films had their spaghetti, World War films had their macaroni. For those who may have not recognized him here as B.J. Hammer, he’s the “Nam” veteran dude with the macho cigar, ripping a vampire off his heart in “From Dusk Till Dawn”, screenplay by Tarantino… Could it be a coincidence that the Hammer storyline has similarities with Tarantino’s The Gold Watch in Pulp Fiction (staged fight, girlfriend minus the watch)? Could it be a coincidence that in the remastered film “The Inglorious Bastards”, starring my Fred Williamson, (1977) 3-disc set it features an interview with Quentin Tarantino who directed the similarly titled yet unrelated film Inglourious Basterds? Could it be?
Tagline: They are the Ghetto Warriors… some call them The Black Gestapo
I had to watch it. The title only was convincing enough. Released in 1975, this nazi-blaxploitation film is about a vigilante named General Ahmed, who starts an inner-city “People’s Army” to protect the black citizens of Watts. However, when the Army succeeds in chasing the mob out of town, thanks to Ahmed’s second-in-command Colonel Kojah, Ahmed fears this protection squad will just turn into a vigilante mob, and his prediction soon proves correct. Colonel Kojah, reforms the movement into a fascist criminal organization.
Well definitely not Black Panthers related if one asks, but it has to do with Black Power, yet in an awkward way. Whilst the title could give a hint that it’s war between races, well in a crazy turn the “New Race Masters” get too big for their boots and are themselves put down by their own people. Well there is absolutely no value to this movie, unless you like watching prostitutes get abused, black people marching around in Nazi uniforms shouting “Vengeance!”, and a gangster’s genitalia being cut off with a razor while he takes a bath. Actually… Apocalyptic based on that, it’s probably worth seeing. Nonsense can be fun, so to watch for a good laugh and not to be taken to the first degree.
Tagline: There’s a new kind of hero on the streets!
“A pimp is only as good as his product, and his product is women. Now you’ve got to go out there and get the best ones you can find. And you’ve got to work them broads like nobody’s ever worked them before. And never forget: anybody can control a woman’s body, you see, but the key is to control her mind.” Lesson on being a successful pimp by The Blind Man in the film. Released in 1973, “The Mack” the story of small time drug dealer Goldie, who has just left prison after serving five years in the state penitentiary. On his return he is offered the opportunity to become a pimp and becomes one of the best in the business with ten girls to his name, improving his lifestyle. His success garners the unwanted interest of the local drug distributors, rival pimps and corrupt cops wanting some greasing. On the other side is Goldie’s older brother Olinga, a black activist trying to clean up the streets from drugs, prostitutes and crime.
“The Mack” is the pimp film reference by excellence, from the clothes to the words and lifestyle. All the quotes heard in rap music regarding the pimping lifestyle mainly comes from this film, from Too $hort to Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre to Nas, Raekwon to Ol’ Dirty Bastard to name a few.
No tagline. The poster says it all.
Bumpy Jonas: When will I hear from you?
John Shaft: When I got something to say.
Whilst writing my favorite Shaft line, Isaac Hayes’ “Theme from Shaft” is already playing in my mind and I can feel my foot tapping. I imagine myself putting my sunglasses on à la CSI Miami’s Horatio and walk away in a John Wayne-esque style. I feel so cool. In terms of blaxploitation films, Shaft is where it all began. Released in 1971, the story revolves around private eye/detective John Shaft. He first finds himself up against the leader of the Black crime mob named Bumpy, then against Black nationals, and finally working with both against the White Mafia who are trying to blackmail Bumpy by kidnapping his daughter. A simple story to start, then an interesting twist to follow. At the time it was so explosive and revolutionary as it helped to make the entire concept of a Black private eye very credible. Richard Roundtree is a quintessential anti-hero but I looked at him like a Superhero, along side my Macaroni Combat Hero. I must confess I used to get very much confused over Roundtree’s and Williamson’s similar mustaches and angry faces, and they were the most notable two men of the Blaxploitation era. Many similarities are noticeable between Dirty Harry (also released in 1971) and Shaft, both of which include a rebellious detective for a protagonist. In 2000, a third sequel was made starring, in the lead role as Shaft’s nephew, Samuel L. Jackson, to whom a special mention goes as I can’t help but have his voice in the back of my head whenever I’m about to plunge back in the Blaxploitation universe.
I spent an entire New Year’s Eve with friends watching Dolemite movies. Loved it, and I hate NYE, being an old man and all.