Blaxploitation or blacksploitation is an ethnic subgenre of the exploitation film, emerging in the United States during the early 1970s. Blaxploitation films were originally made specifically for an urban black audience, but the genre's audience appeal soon broadened across racial and ethnic lines. The Los Angeles National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) head and ex-film publicist Junius Griffin coined the term from the words "black" and "exploitation." Blaxploitation films were the first to regularly feature soundtracks of funk and soul music and primarily black casts. 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.
When set in the Northeast or West Coast, blaxploitation films are mainly set in poor urban neighborhoods. Terms used against white characters, such as "crackers" and "honky", are common plot and or character elements. Blaxploitation films set in the South often deal with slavery and miscegenation.
Blaxploitation includes several subtypes, including crime (Foxy Brown), action/martial arts (Three the Hard Way), westerns (Boss Nigger), horror (Abby, Blacula), comedy (Uptown Saturday Night), nostalgia (Five on the Black Hand Side), coming-of-age/courtroom drama (Cooley High/Cornbread, Earl and Me), and musical (Sparkle).
Following the example set by Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, many blaxploitation films feature funk and soul jazz soundtracks with heavy bass, funky beats, and wah-wah guitars. These soundtracks are notable for a degree of complexity that was not common to the radio-friendly funk tracks of the 1970s. They also featured a rich orchestration which included instruments such as flutes and violins, which were used in funk or soul music of the era.
Following the popularity of blaxploitation films in the 1970s, films within other genres began to feature black characters with stereotypical blaxploitation characteristics, such as the Harlem underworld characters in Live and Let Die (1973), Jim Kelly's character in Enter the Dragon (1973), and Fred Williamson's character in The Inglorious Bastards (1978).
The genre's role in exploring and shaping race relations in the US has been controversial. 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 NAACP, Southern 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.”
Blaxploitation films such as Mandingo (1975) provided mainstream Hollywood producers, in this case Dino De Laurentiis, a cinematic way to depict plantation slavery with all of its brutal, historical and ongoing racial contradictions and controversies, including sex, miscegenation, rebellion and so on. The story world also depicts the plantation as one of the main origins of boxing as a sport in the U.S. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, a new wave of acclaimed black filmmakers, particularly Spike Lee (Do the Right Thing) and John Singleton (Boyz n the Hood) focused on black urban life in their movies. These directors made use of Blaxploitation elements while incorporating implicit criticism of the genre's glorification of stereotypical "criminal" behavior.The Black Angels: Concerning a black motorcycle gang; also part of the outlaw biker film genre.They Call Me MISTER Tibbs!: Sequel to In the Heat of the Night is a pre-Shaft Blaxploitation film. It is stylistically very different from the original film.Cotton Comes to Harlem: Based on a novel written by Chester Himes and directed by Ossie Davis. Features two black NYPD detectives: Coffin Ed (played by Raymond St. Jacques) and Gravedigger Jones (played by Godfrey Cambridge). They are on the hunt for a money-filled cotton bale stolen by a corrupt reverend named Deke O’Malley. Blazing Saddles star Cleavon Little makes an appearance in the film as well as comedian Redd Foxx in a role which led to his TV series Sanford & Son.Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song: Written, produced, scored, directed by, and stars Melvin Van Peebles. The hero is raised among prostitutes and is arrested for a crime he did not commit. During his arrest, he saves a young black male from a police beating by attacking the (white) police officers. He becomes a fugitive from police authority and heads for Mexico. In 2004, Mario Van Peebles directed and starred as his father in BAADASSSSS!, a biopic about the making of Sweet Sweetback.Shaft: Directed by Gordon Parks and features Richard Roundtree as detective John Shaft. The popular soundtrack features contributions from Isaac Hayes whose recording of the titular song won several awards including an Academy Award. Perhaps the most famous blaxploitation film, it was deemed culturally relevant by the Library of Congress. It spawned two sequels, Shaft's Big Score (1972) and Shaft in Africa (1973), as well as a short-lived TV series starring Roundtree. The concept was revived in 2000 with an all-new sequel starring Samuel L. Jackson as the nephew of the original John Shaft, with Richard Roundtree reprising his role as the original Shaft.Hit Man: The story of an Oakland hit man, played by former NFL player Bernie Casey who comes to Los Angeles after his brother is murdered. He later finds out that his niece has been forced into pornography and is later murdered. Then, he sets out to murder everyone directly involved; from a porn star (Pam Grier), to a theater owner (Ed Cambridge), to a man he looked up to as a child (Rudy Challenger), and a mobster (Don Diamond).Super Fly: Directed by Gordon Parks, Jr., this film features a soundtrack by Curtis Mayfield and is considered to be one of the most controversial, profitable, and popular 'classics' of the genre.The Legend of Nigger Charley: Written, co-produced, and stars Fred Williamson. It was followed by the 1973 sequel, The Soul of Nigger Charley.Hammer: Stars Fred Williamson as B.J. Hammer, a boxer who gets mixed up with a crooked manager who wants him to throw a fight for the Mafia.Across 110th Street: A crime thriller about two detectives (played by Anthony Quinn and Yaphet Kotto) who try to catch a group of robbers who stole $300,000 from the Mob before the Mob catches up with them. The title track by Bobby Womack reached #19 on the Billboard Black Singles Chart.Black Mama, White Mama: A women in prison exploitation movie partly inspired by The Defiant Ones (1958) starring Pam Grier and Margaret Markov in the roles originally played by Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis.Blacula: A take on Dracula featuring an African prince (played by William H. Marshall) who is bitten and imprisoned by Count Dracula and once freed from his coffin, spreads terror in modern-day Los Angeles.Slaughter: Stars Jim Brown as an ex-Green Beret who seeks revenge against a crime syndicate for the murder of his parents. It spawned the sequel, Slaughter's Big Rip-Off (1973).Trouble Man: Stars Robert Hooks as "Mr. T.": A hard-edged private detective who tends to take justice into his own hands. Although the film itself was unsuccessful, it did enjoy a successful soundtrack which was written, produced, and performed by Motown artist Marvin Gaye.Black Caesar: Fred Williamson plays Tommy Gibbs, a street smart hoodlum who has worked his way up to being the crime boss of Harlem.Blackenstein: A parody of Frankenstein and features a black Frankenstein's monster.Cleopatra Jones and the sequel, Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold (1975): Stars Tamara Dobson as a karate-chopping government agent. The first film marked the beginning of a subgenre of blaxploitation films which focused on strong female leads who took an active role in shootouts and fights. Some of these films include Coffy, Black Belt Jones, Foxy Brown, and T.N.T. Jackson.Coffy: Pam Grier stars as Coffy, a nurse turned vigilante who takes revenge on all those who hooked her 11-year-old sister on heroin. Coffy marked Pam Grier's biggest hit and was re-worked for Foxy Brown, Friday Foster and Sheba Baby.Detroit 9000: Set in Detroit, MI, features street-smart white detective Danny Bassett (Alex Rocco) who teams with educated black detective Sgt. Jesse Williams (Hari Rhodes) to investigate the theft of $400,000 at a fund-raiser for Representative Aubrey Hale Clayton (Rudy Challenger). Championed by Quentin Tarantino it was released on video by Miramax in April 1999.Gordon's War: Stars Paul Winfield as a Vietnam vet who recruits ex-Army buddies to fight the Harlem drug dealers and pimps responsible for the heroin-fueled death of his wife.The Mack: A film starring Max Julien and Richard Pryor. This movie was produced during the era of such Blaxploitation movies as Dolemite. However it is not considered by its makers a true blaxploitation picture. It is more a social commentary according to Mackin' Ain't Easy, a documentary about the making of The Mack, which can be found on the DVD edition of the film. The movie tells the story of the life of John Mickens (a.k.a. Goldie), a former drug dealer recently released from prison who becomes a big-time pimp. Standing in his way is another pimp: Pretty Tony. Two corrupt white cops, a local crime lord, and his own brother (a black nationalist), who all try to force him out of the business. The movie is set in Oakland, California and was the biggest grossing blaxploitation film of its time. Its soundtrack was recorded by Motown artist Willie Hutch.Scream Blacula Scream: Sequel to Blacula; William H. Marshall resumes his role as Blacula/Mamuwalde.Slaughter's Big Rip-Off: Jim Brown continues to battle against the Mob in this sequel to Slaughter (1972).The Spook Who Sat By the Door is adapted from Sam Greenlee's novel and directed by Ivan Dixon with music by Herbie Hancock. A token black CIA employee, who is secretly a black nationalist, leaves his position to train a street gang in CIA tactics in order to become an army of "freedom fighters". The film was reportedly pulled from distribution because of its politically controversial message and depictions of an American race war. Until its 2004 DVD release, it was very difficult to obtain, save for infrequent bootleg VHS copies. In 2012, the film was included in the USA Library of Congress National Film Registry.That Man Bolt: starring Fred Williamson, is the first spy film in this genre, combining elements of James Bond with martial arts action in an international setting.Trick Baby: Based on the book of the same name by ex-pimp Iceberg Slim.Abby: A blaxploitation version of The Exorcist and stars Carol Speed as a virtuous young woman possessed by a demon. Ms. Speed also sings the title song. William H. Marshall (of Blacula fame) conducts the exorcism of Abby on the floor of a discotheque. A hit in its time, it was later pulled from the theaters after Warner Bros. successfully sued AIP over copyright issues.Black Belt Jones: Better known for his role as "Mister Williams" in the Bruce Lee film Enter the Dragon, Jim Kelly was given a leading role in this martial arts film. He plays Black Belt Jones, a federal agent/martial arts expert, who takes on the mob as he avenges the murder of a karate school owner.Black Eye: An action-mystery starring Fred Williamson as a private detective investigating murders connected with a drug ring.The Black Godfather: a film starring Rod Perry as a man rising to underworld power based on The Godfather.The Black Six: About a black motorcycle gang seeking revenge, is a combination of blaxploitation and outlaw biker film.Foxy Brown: Largely a remake of her hit film Coffy, Pam Grier once again plays a nurse on a vendetta against a drug ring. Originally written as a sequel to Coffy, the film's working title was Burn, Coffy, Burn!Get Christie Love! (TV movie later released to some theaters): A police drama, this time with an attractive young black woman (Teresa Graves) as an undercover cop. Later made into a short-lived TV series.Johnny Tough: starring Dion Gossett and Renny Roker.Space Is the Place: Psychedelically-themed blaxploitation film featuring Sun Ra & His Intergalactic Solar Arkestra.Sugar Hill: Set in Houston, this film features a female fashion photographer (played by Marki Bey) who wreaks revenge on the local crime Mafia that murdered her fiance with the use of voodoo magic.Three the Hard Way. Three black men (Fred Williamson, Jim Kelly, and Jim Brown) must stop a white supremacist plot to eliminate all blacks with a serum in the water supply. Directed by Gordon Parks, Jr.T.N.T. Jackson: Starring Jean Bell (one of the first black Playboy playmates), this film is partly set in Hong Kong, and notable for blending blaxploitation with the then-popular "chop-socky" martial arts genre.Together Brothers: Set in Galveston, Texas, a street gang solves the murder of a Galveston, TX police officer (played by Ed Bernard who has been a mentor to the gang leader). This was the first Blaxploitation film to feature a transgender character as the film's villain. Galveston, TX native Barry White composed the film's score. The soundtrack features music by the Love Unlimited Orchestra.Truck Turner: Starring Isaac Hayes, Yaphet Kotto, Nichelle Nichols, and directed by Johnathan Kaplan. Former football player turned bounty hunter is pitted against a powerful prostitution crime syndicate in Los Angeles.Willie Dynamite: Roscoe Orman (Gordon from Sesame Street fame) plays a pimp. As in many Blaxploitation films, the lead character drives a customized Cadillac Eldorado Coupe (the same car was used in Magnum Force).Sheba, Baby: A female private eye (Pam Grier) tries to help her father save his loan business from a gang of thugs.The Black Gestapo: Rod Perry plays General Ahmed who has started an inner-city People's Army to try to relieve the misery of the citizens of Watts, Los Angeles. When the Mafia moves in, they establish a military style squad.Black Shampoo: A take off of the Warren Beatty hit Shampoo.Boss Nigger: Along with his friend Amos (D’Urville Martin), Boss Nigger (Fred Williamson) takes over the vacated position of Sheriff in a small western town in this Western Blaxploitation film. Because of its controversial title, it was released in some markets as The Boss, The Black Bounty Killer or The Black Bounty Hunter.Coonskin: An animated/live-action, controversial Ralph Bakshi film about Br'er Fox, Br'er Rabbit, and Br'er Bear in a blaxploitation parody of Disney's Song of the South. It features the voice of Barry White as Br'er Bear.Darktown Strutters (1975): A farce produced by Roger Corman's brother, Gene, and directed by William Witney. A Colonel Sanders-type figure with a chain of urban fried chicken restaurants is attempting to wipe out the black race by making them impotent through his drugged fried chicken.Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde: The retelling of the Jekyll and Hyde tale, starring Bernie Casey.Dolemite: Also the name of its principal character, played by Rudy Ray Moore, who co-wrote the film. Moore had developed the alter-ego as a stand-up comedian and released several comedy albums using this persona. The film was directed by D'Urville Martin, who appears as the villain Willie Green. The film has attained something of a cult status, earning it a following and making it more well-known than many of its counterparts. A sequel, The Human Tornado, was released in 1976.Mandingo: Based on a series of lurid Civil War novels, this focuses on the abuses of slavery and the sexual relations between slaves and slave owners and features Richard Ward and Ken Norton. It was followed by a sequel, Drum (1976) starring Pam Grier.The Candy Tangerine Man: The film opens with pageantry pimp Baron (John Daniels) driving his customised two-tone red and yellow Rolls Royce around downtown L.A at night. His ladies have been coming up short lately and he wants to know why. It turns out that two L.A.P.D. cops - Dempsey and Gordon, who have been after Baron for some time now, have resorted to rousting his girls every chance they get. Indeed, in the next scene they have set Baron up with a cop in drag to entrap him with procurement of prostitutes.Ebony, Ivory & Jade: By Cirio Santiago (also known as She Devils in Chains, American Beauty Hostages, Foxfire, Foxforce). Three female athletes are kidnapped during an international track meet in Hong Kong and fight their way to freedom. Another cross-genre blend of blaxploitation and martial arts action films.The Muthers: Another Cirio Santiago combination of Filipino martial arts action and women-in-prison elements. Jeanne Bell and Jayne Kennedy rescue prisoners held at an evil coffee plantation.Passion Plantation (a.k.a. Black Emmanuel, White Emmanuel): A blend of the Mandingo, and Emmanuelle are erotic films with interracial sex and savagery.Velvet Smooth. Johnnie Hill is the titular Velvet Smooth: a female private detective hired to infiltrate the criminal underworld.The Human Tornado a.k.a. Dolemite II. Rudy Ray Moore reprises his role as Dolemite in the sequel to the 1975 film Dolemite.Black Fist: A film featuring a streetfighter who goes to work for a white gangster and a corrupt cop. The film is in the public domain. Cast members include Richard Lawson and Dabney ColemanBlack Samurai: Based on a novel of the same name by Marc Olden, is directed by Al Adamson and stars Jim Kelly. The script is credited to B. Readick, with additional story ideas from Marco Joachim.Bare Knuckles: Stars Robert Viharo, Sherry Jackson and Gloria Hendry. The film is written and directed by Don Edmonds. Follows L.A. bounty hunter Zachary Kane (Viharo) on the hunt for a masked serial killer on the loose.Petey Wheatstraw (a.k.a. Petey Wheatstraw, the Devil's Son-In-Law): A blaxploitation film written by Cliff Roquemore and stars popular blaxploitation genre comedian Rudy Ray Moore along with Jimmy Lynch, Leroy Daniels, Ernest Mayhand, and Ebony Wright. It is typical of Moore's other films of the era, Dolemite and The Human Tornado, in that it features Rudy Ray Moore's rhyming dialogue.Death Dimension: An action and martial arts film by Al Adamson starring Jim Kelly, Harold Sakata, George Lazenby, Terry Moore, and Aldo Ray. The movie also goes by the names Death Dimensions, Freeze Bomb, Icy Death, The Kill Factor, and Black Eliminator. The plot revolves about a scientist, Professor Mason, who has invented a powerful freezing bomb for a gangster leader nicknamed "The Pig" (Sakata).Disco Godfather (also known as The Avenging Disco Godfather): An action film starring Rudy Ray Moore and Carol Speed. The plot centers on Moore's character, a retired cop, who owns and operates a disco and who tries to shut down the local angel dust dealer after his nephew becomes hooked on the drug.The Last Dragon (1985): A blaxploitation homage to prior Bruce Lee films in which the lead character is sometimes referred to as Bruce LeRoy. The film was produced by Motown record executive Berry Gordy.I'm Gonna Git You Sucka (1988) is a comedic spoof of the classic 1970s Blaxploitation movie which features many of its stars: Jim Brown, Bernie Casey, Antonio Fargas, Isaac Hayes etc.Action Jackson, a film where the lead role Jericho Jackson, played by Carl Weathers, uses catchphrases to taunt his opponents, also stars Craig T. Nelson, and Vanity.Original Gangstas (1996): An action movie which brings together 1970s blaxploitation stars Pam Grier, Richard Roundtree, Fred Williamson, and Jim Brown.Jackie Brown (1997): Starring Pam Grier, Samuel L. Jackson, and an all-star supporting cast, director Quentin Tarantino pays homage to the blaxploitation genre. Based on the Elmore Leonard novel Rum Punch, Tarantino's title change, casting of Grier, and 1970s-style poster art, are all references to Grier's 1974 film Foxy Brown.Pootie Tang (2001): A comedy film incorporating many blaxploitation elements.Undercover Brother (2002): Comedy film centered around a blaxploitation-style secret agent.Full Clip (2004): made in the graphic novel style.Hookers In Revolt (2008): Starring and directed by Sean Weathers, with its prevalence of pimps and prostitutes it is an inventive throwback to early 1970s Blaxploitation.Black Dynamite (2009): Starring Michael Jai White, is a spoof of blaxploitation films.