Blaxploitation filmmaking

Authored by: Harry M. Benshoff

The Routledge Companion to Cult Cinema

Print publication date:  December  2019
Online publication date:  November  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138950276
eBook ISBN: 9781315668819
Adobe ISBN:


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The controversial term “blaxploitation filmmaking” refers to hundreds of motion pictures made in the United States circa the early 1970s that featured proud and defiant African American protagonists. Some of the better known blaxploitation titles include Shaft (1971), Super Fly (1972), The Mack (1973), The Black Godfather (1974), and Coffy (1975). The term blaxploitation is a portmanteau word combining “black” and “exploitation,” and most blaxploitation films do fit a loose definition of exploitation filmmaking in that they were often raw and cheaply made films containing plenty of sex and violence. (The origins of the term itself – around the controversy caused by Super Fly in 1972 – is explored in Koven 2010: 9–13.) Blaxploitation films were also exploitative in the sense that they exploited a new era of African American rebellion, social consciousness, and cultural presence. Other critics and historians have suggested that the films literally exploit the black community, in that many of them feature what some critics deem to be “negative” images of African Americans, such as pimps, gangsters, and prostitutes. And of course much of the money made from these films flowed back into white Hollywood. So while blaxploitation films were popular with many younger and urban African American audiences, other middle class critics – perhaps most famously black psychiatrist Alvin F. Poussaint (1974) – decried the films for portraying blacks as “violent criminal sexy savages.”

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