Oxford AASC: Photo Essay

Sign up for Emails

Sign up now to receive an email alert for the Focus On feature!

GO

Privacy Policy

Previous Features

PHOTO ESSAY

Blaxploitation Cinema

Back Arrow Previous

Photo 11 of 11

Next Next Arrow
Django Unchained

Jamie Foxx in 'Django Unchained' (2012). Courtesy The Weinstein Company/Photofest.

As mentioned previously, the most visible influence of Blaxploitation is on hip hop, a subculture that is unimaginable without films such as Shaft and the soundtracks that accompanied them. More ambiguous, however, is the legacy of Blaxploitation in cinema–a direct result of the ongoing lack of diversity in the film industry. Numerous African American-directed movies have paid homage to the genre in some way since the late 1980s, often finding critical success, including Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing (1989), John Singleton's Boyz in the Hood (1991), Albert and Allen Hughes' Menace II Society (1993), and Mario Van Peebles' New Jack City (1991) and Posse (1993). In 2000, Singleton directed a new version of Shaft with Samuel L. Jackson and Christian Bale, which served as both a sequel and a remake. Van Peebles later directed and starred in Baadasssss! (2003), which detailed the making of his father's Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (1971). The influence has extended to big budget movies made by and starring mostly white people, most notably the crowd-pleasing action movies of the 1980s. Blockbusters such as Commando (1985), in which the protagonist would often deliver a snarky one-liner after killing an enemy, were reminiscent of the black gangster films of the '70s–only this time, the themes had more conservative and militaristic leanings.

But the filmmaker who has gotten the most mileage out of the genre is almost certainly Quentin Tarantino. Not without controversy, Tarantino has employed Blaxploitation tropes and music in hit films such as Jackie Brown (1997), which not only put Pam Grier in a leading role once more, but also revived Bobby Womack's "Across 110th Street" and the Delfonics' "Didn't I Blow Your Mind This Time?". In 2012, Tarantino was able to take the genre to an epic, Oscar-winning level with Django Unchained, a violent revenge fantasy starring Jamie Foxx. Though the film was a huge success, some critics (including Spike Lee) accused Tarantino of trivializing the crime of slavery, and raised questions about whether white filmmakers should be the ones to tell the most painful stories of black history. The ongoing debate calls to mind Robert Townsend's satire Hollywood Shuffle (1987). In that film, Townsend plays a black actor compelled to make an exploitative gangster movie, a situation illustrating the way black artists are often viewed in Hollywood. In other words, while the influence of the Blaxploitation era is undeniable, it has been coopted into the mainstream in ways that the original filmmakers did not foresee.

Back Arrow Previous

Photo 11 of 11

Next Next Arrow