70s9. Blaxploitation's Context and Reception


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70s9. Blaxploitation's Context and Reception

  1. 1. US Cinema of the 1970s: Blaxploitation’s Context & Reception Prof. Julia Leyda September 10, 2013
  2. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 8. black power rhetoric
  9. 9. (male) black power rhetoric and sex
  10. 10. Sweetback framed by chainlink fence
  11. 11. split screen ELS
  12. 12. frame with text
  13. 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. 14. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967)
  15. 15. urban landscape: freeways
  16. 16. urban landscape: oil well
  17. 17. ―real‖ black: direct camera address
  18. 18. ―real‖ black: direct camera address
  19. 19. ―real‖ black: children
  20. 20. iconography: afro, direct address
  21. 21. iconography: burning cop car
  22. 22. noir lighting: policeman
  23. 23. text warning to the Man
  24. 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. 25. ―rated X by an all-white jury‖
  26. 26. blaxploitation auteur
  27. 27. noir city: superimposed images
  28. 28. noir city: strip clubs, porn
  29. 29. color effects: oil well
  30. 30. silhouette superimposition
  31. 31. iconography: low-angle shaky camera
  32. 32. superimpositions
  33. 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. 34. Coffy (1973) with Pam Grier
  35. 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. 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,