Six times a year, the editors of the Oxford African American Studies Center provide insights into black history and culture, showing ways in which the past and present interact by offering specially commissioned featured essays, photographic essays, and a selected list of articles that will further guide the reader. The latest Focus On looks at the history of Blaxploitation Cinema.
Who's the cat that won't cop out / When there's danger all about?
If you know the answer to that question (Shaft!), and probably even if you don't, then you know that Blaxploitation films represent an indisputably integral part of the history of American popular culture. From cool gangsters to deadly heroines to campy monsters, the characters portrayed in Blaxploitation movies were undeniable crowd-pleasers, and the films saw unprecedented success throughout the 1970s. Often produced independently from major Hollywood studios, Blaxploitation movies played well with urban audiences in search of familiar settings, action, grit, and humor. The best Blaxploitation films were accompanied by distinctive soundtracks, too, and the works that Isaac Hayes and Curtis Mayfield composed for Shaft and Super Fly, respectively, have come to define the musicians' legacies.
The history of Blaxploitation, however, is fraught with controversy over the films' artistic merits and larger social role. While many African Americans found the stories and characters of Blaxploitation films to be empowering, critics felt that the films reinforced negative stereotypes of African Americans as violent, hypersexual, and criminal. Therein lay a major part of the "exploitation" in which these films were said to traffic. In this photo essay, the editors of the Oxford African American Studies Center explore the history and lasting influence of Blaxploitation, from the early 1970s through the present day.
View photo essay
The following entries have been selected to help guide readers who want to know more about Blaxploitation and African Americans in film and the arts.
(Access to the following articles is available only to subscribers.)
Primary Source Documents