December 6, 2010
Last Thursday afternoon, the black studies department at Cleveland
State University hosted an afternoon discussion about the
Blacksploitation film movement throughout the 1970s.
During the 1960s, the nation, as well as the world, was on the verge
of a racial breakthrough with leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and
Malcolm X. Student organizations, such as the NAACP and SNCC, decided
to fight for civil rights and used phrases like, "Say it loud I'm
black and I'm proud," to promote their cause.
And even though the racial change was evident in music, clothing and
other outlets of media, at the time movies typically starred
all-white casts. There were neither black films nor notable black
actors and actresses in Hollywood.
But all of that was about to change with the Blacksploitation movement.
According to CSU professor Eric Siler, the decade featured black
actors and actresses as modern superheroes of their day. They made
their own rules and fought against the tyranny of law enforcement.
Films during this period included "Shaft" and "Cleopatra Jones."
Even though these films featured black actors and actresses, the
perception of African-Americans in these movies was nothing short of
stereotypical. The actors played pimps, whores, number-runners,
crooked cops or women detectives that used their bodies to solve a case.
These movies helped save Hollywood, at a time when the theater
business was in trouble.
Many people in the black community found these roles degrading. The
NAACP fought to stop the production of black movies that did not
shine the best light on African-Americans
However, these films opened the door for black filmmakers such as
Spike Lee, John Singleton, and Tyler Perry.
Many modern movies were patterned after Blacksploitation films. For
example, Singleton's movie "Boyz N the Hood" was modeled after the
film "Cooley High."
The film industry has come a long way since the 1970s and will
continue to evolve. It is clear that the Blacksploitation movement
indelibly made its mark in cinematic history.