African American Cinema



BLAXPLOITATION

Despite these two concurrent trends of African American filmmaking—filmmakers within the Hollywood system and filmmakers without, both creating ideologically and aesthetically thoughtful films—most people associate African American cinema of the 1970s with blaxploitation, a series of extremely low budget, sensationalist features of which there were more than two hundred. Produced from the early 1970s through the middle of the decade, these films capitalized, or exploited, the desire of African Americans (and others as well) to see transgressive characters in urban settings. Many attribute the birth of this movement to the success of Van Peebles's Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song , which was released with an X rating, and Park's Superfly , exciting films that featured characters involved in "underground" economies, the sex and drug trades.

Of the ultra-low budget, campy, violent films that followed, about pimps and drug dealers in stack shoes, bell bottoms, and furs, very few were written or directed by blacks, financed and produced by black production companies, or reached theaters through black-owned distribution businesses. Those that were, such as Blacula (William Crain, 1972), were often politically relevant, but they fell victim to the designation of blaxploitation because of their lower production values. Nevertheless, the power of the movement was a significant one, as it influenced more mainstream productions. For example, the 1973 installment of the James Bond series, Live and Let Die , makes use of the established iconography. Though the movement was relatively short-lived, ended by both public protest and falling profits—attributed to its over-reliance on formula—it did create some opportunities for African Americans in the film industry, creating a new galaxy of stars, including Pam Grier, Tamara Dobson, Fred Williamson, and Jim Kelly.



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