|Date(s):||1970 to 1980|
|Location(s):||Los Angeles, California|
|Tag(s):||Blaxploitation movement, Black film, Black Theater, Black History|
|Course:||“Historian's Craft,” University of Alabama at Birmingham|
In July 1971, Newsweek Magazine produced in its new movie section an article stating, “John Shaft, private eye aspired steely black version of Sam Spade and James Bond, SHAFTS BIG SCORE, the sequel to last year’s enormously profitable Shaft.” Hollywood was on a role. During the late 1960’s white people were moving to the suburbs in mass numbers, leaving blacks as the minority in the city. However, the cinemas were only located in the city. As a result, to keep movie theaters from closing, which would also affect Hollywood, Hollywood began to make films primarily for the black audience. Finally the days were over where black actors and actresses could only starred in roles like the mammie, coon, or Uncle Tom. Now there were movies being produced such as Melvin Van Peeble’s, Sweet Sweetback’s Baadassss Song (1971), and Gordon Parks’, Shaft (1971), which portrayed African Americans in a different light.
Although African Americans had appeared on screen during the 1930’s and 1940’s, the 1970’s birthed films that completely changed how African Americans were represented in film. Going into the 1970s, African Americans turned to Hollywood to represent their outlook and attitudes on their brutal history. Filmmakers took sensitive issues that African Americans had to deal with in the past and made it into entertainment. This era is known as the Blaxploitation era.
Historian David Walker, author of Reflections of Blaxploitation, stated, “The Blaxploitation period of the 1970s had a positive impact on the African American race because it changed the way other races received the black race”. The Blaxploitation era was the first time in film history, Hollywood produced black oriented films pitched directly at satisfying black people. The Blaxploitation films were significant to African Americans because the movies now portrayed blacks as heroes. Blacks were now able to show how it was being black in America and the rest of the world was ready to see it. The films brought Hollywood so much financial success that it opened the floodgate for over 200 more films during that period.
The Blaxploitation era died down after the 1970s, but it left a major impact in film forever. In that era several classics were produced like: Lady Sings the Blues: Black Stars/ Black Romance, Sounder, and Sparkle, just to name a few. One mutation of the Blaxploitation period is hip hop. Hip hop drew heavily from the films that were created during that time. Another mutation of that period is other black films today. There are even black classic films that borrowed concepts of the films during that era such as Boyz in the Hood (1991) which borrowed from Cooley High. The Blaxploitation period birthed over 200 movies, grossed millions of dollars, launched many careers, and changed the perception about African Americans forever.