Blaxploitation is a phrase that dates back to the early ’70s in terms of its themes, style, and politics. The development of stereotypes in film history is intimately linked to the evolution of the genre. Movies featuring anti-establishment plotlines in which African American characters clash with the police and order while confronting their destiny are considered blaxploitation. Blaxploitation films were frequently condemned for their stereotyped portrayal of African-American identity, even though they were intended for African-American viewers who were fed up with the macho, white protagonists’ adventures on screen.
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African-American characters were depicted as morally flawed persons who willingly selected the incorrect road of crime and violence in response to the stark reality of racial persecution. Movies released between 1970 and 1979 gave the African-American community with their own heroes and cults to follow as a counterpoint to the largely white Hollywood tales of the time period.
Civil rights struggles, racial tensions, and a sense of national shame influenced the genre’s emergence. Blaxploitation films prompted Hollywood studios to listen to the “Black Power” chants coming from the ghettos and Harlem. A well-defined genre with cultural and political significance in the history of Hollywood was established over the years The following is a list of the greatest blaxploitation films ever made. Blaxploitation movies can be found on Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime.
13. Super Fly (1972)
Youngblood Priest, played by Ron O’Neal, and the exuberant music by Curtis Mayfield are two of the film’s most memorable aspects. For an African-American drug dealer who specialized in selling cocaine, there are only two ways out of Harlem: death or prison. But he isn’t ready to accept either of them just yet.” Priest, on the other hand, plans the largest deal of his life that will both make him a millionaire and free him from the drug gangs in Harlem. The film made $6.2 million against a budget of just $500,000. At the box office, it competed head-to-head with Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘The Godfather.’ Charles McGregor, Carl Lee, Julius W. Harris, and Sheila Frazier are all featured prominently. Gordon Parks, Jr. is the film’s director.
12. Sweet Sweetback’s Baad Asssss Song (1971)
It was the song ‘Sweet Sweetback’s Baaad Assss Song’ that created the groundwork for the Blaxploitation sub-genre. Melvin Van Peebles is the financier, director, writer, producer, and editor of the film. In addition, he was the film’s music director and star, despite the fact that most big studios had rejected the proposal.
Though it had a poorer production quality than other films, the film went on to become a cinematic masterpiece thanks to its innovative storytelling techniques such as split screen and double exposure. Melvin Van Peebles portrays Sweetback, a sex show performer in a brothel, in the film’s title role. Mario Van Peebles, Rhetta Hughes, and John Amos round out the supporting cast. It established that macho African-American protagonists who emanate ultraviolence can draw massive crowds to the theater and produce blockbusters, according to Variety. While Van Peebles was acknowledged as a pioneer of the Blaxploitation genre, Sweet Sweetback’s Baad Asssss Song was a box office hit.
11. Trick Baby (1972)
It is based on Iceberg Slim’s 1967 novel “Trick Baby” that the criminal drama “Trick Baby” takes its title. Mel Stewart plays Blue Howard, one of two gangsters in Philadelphia, and White Folks (played by John C. Reilly) is the other (played by Kiel Martin). When it comes to stealing other people’s money, the racial relations between Whites and African-Americans are a significant factor. White people have an African-American mother and a white father. He engages in a wide range of criminal activities as a result of his mixed race. The duo was doing well until one of their prior con jobs went horribly wrong. They quickly become the prey of thugs and a vengeful cop. The film ‘Trick Baby,’ directed by Larry Yust, is remembered for its shocking and disturbing conclusion.
10. Coffy (1973)
First female vigilante in Blaxploitation film history is introduced by ‘Coffy’. It revolves around Pam Grier’s breakout role as Coffy, a female vigilante who also happens to be a hospital nurse. Coffy vows vengeance on the town’s drug dealers when her sister becomes a heroin addict as a result of their actions. She uses a shotgun to confront the hazardous drug traffickers in the city’s underbelly and make amends for her sister’s plight. Pam Grier became known as the “Queen of Blaxploitation” in the 1970s thanks to the exceptional box office success and cult status of “Coffy.” Jack Hill is the film’s writer and director.
9. Blacula (1972)
Blaxploitation and horror elements were combined in ‘Blacula,’ a spoof of Bram Stoker’s classic novel. Mamuwalde, an 18th-century African ruler, is the central character of the story (played by William Marshall). He appeals to Count Dracula in Transylvania, at the Count’s castle, for help in ending the disgusting practice of slavery. Dracula, on the other hand, is unwilling to assist Mamuwalde. Mamuwalde becomes into a vampire following an encounter with Dracula’s vampire guests. When two American interior decorators wandered inside Castle Dracula in Transylvania in 1972, they were shocked to see Mamuwalde’s coffin. To be closer to family, they had the coffin shipped to L.A. When they open the coffin, the ferocious Mamuwalde transforms them into vampires. Mamuwalde and his vampire horde, renamed Blacula, go on a rampage through the city. William Crain is the film’s director.
8. Live and Let Die (1973)
According to popular culture, “Live and Let Die” was Roger Moore’s debut performance as the iconic British spy James Bond. However, the film’s depiction of African-American identity places it among the best Blaxploitation films. The story takes Bond to San Monique, an island nation in the Caribbean, to investigate the gruesome murder of three MI6 operatives. Dr. Kananga, the mystery island’s ruler, rules with an iron fist (played by Blaxploitation star Yaphet Kotto). Bond quickly gains access to the vault containing Dr. Kanaga’s top-secret information. In New York City, Kanaga is known as Mr. Big, an African-American mobster known for his ruthlessness and violence. He employs both personas to smuggle heroin into New York City from San Monique’s poppy fields. Baron Samedi, Kanaga’s henchman, uses various Voodoo magic devices to sow dread around the island. Jane Seymour plays a significant role in the picture as well. Guy Hamilton directed ‘Live and Let Die,’ which was written by Tom Mankiewicz.
7. Black Belt Jones (1974)
Jim Kelly and Gloria Hendry star in ‘Black Belt Jones,’ a fusion of Blaxploitation and the martial art Kung Fu. Robert Clouse, who previously directed Bruce Lee in ‘Enter the Dragon,’ is behind the camera. In ‘Enter the Dragon,’ Jim Kelly had a supporting role as an African-American martial artist. In certain circles, Black Belt Jones is seen as a spiritual successor to the martial art classic. For his friend Pop Byrd, Scatman Crothers plays the titular karate teacher, who takes on the local mafia for the sake of the title character, played by Kelly. Gloria Hendry portrays Byrd’s daughter, who joins Jones in the fight against the mob. Filmmakers were shocked to discover that the film’s characters, who were originally Asian, had been recast as African-Americans.
6. Cooley High (1975)
‘Cooley High’ is regarded as one of the greatest Blaxploitation films of all time. For the first time, a distinct African-American identity emerges in this film. Cooley High students Leroy “Preach” Jackson and Richard “Cochise” Morris are the focus of the film’s narrative (played by Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs). When it comes to their lessons, the two best friends are more interested in hanging out with other males on the streets of Chicago. In contrast to Preach, Cochise is an accomplished basketball player and a recipient of a college scholarship. Their reckless lifestyle continues until one night, they find themselves behind bars. ‘Boyz n the Hood,’ a follow-up to the film, was inspired by the film’s distinctive plot and environment.’ An Eric Monte-penned script is behind the film, which is directed by Michael Schultz. You don’t have to be an African-American to enjoy the film, which is described as a black American Graffiti by Variety.
5. Coonskin (1975)
‘Coonskin’ tells the narrative of an African American rabbit, fox, and bear through a combination of live-action and animated characters. Trio rises to the pinnacle of Harlem’s crime organization in the story’s narrative arc. Law enforcement officials, con artists, and the ruthless Mafia are all obstacles they must overcome. The film stars Philip Thomas, Charles Gordone, Barry White, and Scatman Crothers. Both the live-action and animated versions of the cast are represented. “Coonskin” was created by Ralph Bakshi and directed by him.
4. Penitentiary (1979)
Penitentiary was released just as the Blaxploitation era was coming to an end. Both a prison drama and a boxing movie, this is a must-see for any fan of either. Martel “Too Sweet” Gordone, an African-American vagrant, is played by Leon Isaac Kennedy in the film Penitentiary. Once wrongfully accused, the man finds himself caught in the heart of an illegal prison underworld and illegal hand-boxing competitions based on betting. All of this is under the direction of a white jail officer. That tournament winner will be freed from prison makes Martel want to take a swing at it with his hands. Jesse “The Bull” Amos, the prison’s most powerful gang leader, stands in the way of his escape. One of the filmmakers associated with the L.A. Rebellion Film Movement, Jamaa Fanaka, wrote and directed ‘Penitentiary.’
3. Foxy Brown (1974)
‘Foxy Brown’, starring Pam Grier as Foxy, is often recognized as the most violent film in the Blaxploitation genre. When her mystery boyfriend is murdered and she discovers that her own brother has betrayed her, she goes on the run to exact her vengeance. Using the disguise of a prostitute, she goes for and punishes the people who were responsible for her loss. For its portrayal of a strong African-American female protagonist, the film has gained cult significance. Her role as Foxy launched Grier into the 1970s sex symbol and established her as the queen of Blaxploitation films. Jack Hill is the writer and director of the movie.
2. Across 110th Street (1972)
This film has been hailed as one of the best Blaxploitation films ever made even though it doesn’t use any of the typical tropes. The story revolves around three desperate African-American guys who decide to commit a robbery in order to end their issues for good. The three assassinate a band of low-level thugs and make off with their loot. An African-American lieutenant played by Yaphet K. O. T. O. and a racist captain, played by Anthony Quinn, are sent in with the robbers to recover the stolen goods and bring them out alive or dead. Paul Benjamin and Anthony Franciosa also have significant parts in the film. Barry Shear is the director of ‘Across 110th Street.’
1. Shaft (1971)
‘Shaft,’ a low-budget film that grossed $13 million at the box office, is a genre pioneer. The story revolves around private investigator John Shaft, who is smart and tough (played by Richard Roundtree). Local mafia hires him to find and rescue his kidnapped daughter from the Italian mobsters. Even though it starts off as a routine job for Shaft, the conflict quickly develops into a racial war between African-American and Italian gangs.
History of African-Americans in Hollywood was also changed by this film. MGM’s North American distribution of ‘Shaft’ made it the first major studio project to cast an African American actor in the lead role. The film went on to be a big smash, inspiring three further films in the series. In addition to Richard Roundtree, Moses Gunn, Charles Cioffi, and Christopher St. John also had prominent roles in the film. “Shaft” was written by Ernest Tidyman and John D. F. Black, who collaborated on the film’s director, Gordon Parks.