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70s9. Blaxploitation's Context and Reception
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70s9. Blaxploitation's Context and Reception


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  • 1. US Cinema of the 1970s: Blaxploitation’s Context & Reception Prof. Julia Leyda September 10, 2013
  • 2. quiz What is Sweetback doing during most of the movie? Describe his most common activities. Why does he do these things all through the movie?
  • 3. blaxploitation  cycle of cheaply made, black-cast action movies set in the ghetto, released between 1969-74  exploitation movies:  sensational, often trashy B-movies aimed at a particular audience, designed to earn money  often extremely violent or sexual  includes blaxploitation, sexploitation, splatter films  black + action + exploitation = blaxploitation
  • 4. blaxploitation formula  started with Sweetback and Shaft  tough black man fights against the corrupt, racist white system and wins in the end  action movie: fight scenes and chase scenes, showing the superiority of the hero against cruel, stupid white villains  emphasis on fashion, music, ―cool‖ hero(ine)
  • 5. Sweet Sweetback’s Baad Asssss Song (1971)  not much story, but lots of music, action, sex, and fighting and chase scenes (too much?)  rated X ―by an all-white jury‖  portrays ―real‖ black ghetto life and people (?)  macho black man gets angry, beats up cops, and wins in the end, no more non-violence  made by auteur Melvin Van Peebles: writer, director, producer, composer, editor, star  scared white people
  • 6. contexts of blaxploitation 1. growing political and social consciousness among black Americans 2. outspoken criticism of Hollywood’s images of black people 3. economic crisis in Hollywood
  • 7. 1. political and social consciousness  1960s white flight and urban life: crime, drugs, police brutality, poverty, (also countercultures and liberation movements)  assassinations: John F. Kennedy in 1963, Malcolm X in 1965, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy in 1968  riots: Watts and 298 cities from 1967-68  Black Power movement and Black Panther Party iconography—anger
  • 8. black power rhetoric
  • 9. (male) black power rhetoric and sex
  • 10. Sweetback framed by chainlink fence
  • 11. split screen ELS
  • 12. frame with text
  • 13. 2. criticism of black images in movies  impatience with ―ebony saint‖ Sidney Poitier’s gentle, integrationist image  some improvement in the macho athlete characters of the 60s: tough, strong, but controlled by whites  but still, movies didn’t show black themes, issues, or communities—only isolated individuals surrounded by whites
  • 14. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967)
  • 15. urban landscape: freeways
  • 16. urban landscape: oil well
  • 17. ―real‖ black: direct camera address
  • 18. ―real‖ black: direct camera address
  • 19. ―real‖ black: children
  • 20. iconography: afro, direct address
  • 21. iconography: burning cop car
  • 22. noir lighting: policeman
  • 23. text warning to the Man
  • 24. 3. economic crisis in Hollywood  driven only by short-term profit, conservative industry won’t change unless forced to  blacks were 10-15% of US population, but 30% of moviegoers in top theaters (first-run, city)  Hollywood saw easy money in the formula of Sweetback, an independent movie with a $500,000 budget that grossed $10,000,000
  • 25. ―rated X by an all-white jury‖
  • 26. blaxploitation auteur
  • 27. noir city: superimposed images
  • 28. noir city: strip clubs, porn
  • 29. color effects: oil well
  • 30. silhouette superimposition
  • 31. iconography: low-angle shaky camera
  • 32. superimpositions
  • 33. criticism of blaxploitation  replaced old stereotypes with new ones?  objectified and undeveloped female characters  romanticizes poverty and the ghetto  hero is ahistorical, individualist acting in panic or desperation—no sense of community or politics  similar to other gritty urban dramas with white heroes (French Connection, Dirty Harry)  ―F***ing will not set you free.‖ –Lerone Bennett’s 1971 Ebony magazine essay
  • 34. Coffy (1973) with Pam Grier
  • 35. positive outcomes of blaxploitation  portrayed the ―realities‖ of life in the ghetto  provoked active debate of black representation and involvement in Hollywood  gave black audiences black heroes (and heroines) in mostly black contexts  inspired later generations of black auteurs: Spike Lee, Mario Van Peebles, John Singleton (and Quentin Tarantino)
  • 36. discussion questions  What was your reaction to Sweetback at first? What do you think of it after learning more about blaxploitation? Why?  In what ways did images of blacks in blaxploitation movies improve on the old stereotypes? In what ways did they create new stereotypes?  How do you think these movies look to today’s audiences?  How does Sweetback compare to previous movies we’ve seen: Chinatown, Taxi Driver,