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PHOTO ESSAY

Blaxploitation Cinema

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Junius Griffin

Junius Griffin, NAACP chapter leader. Courtesy of Calvin Sneed/The Sons and Daughters of Douglass.

Combining the words "black" and "exploitation," "Blaxploitation" was originally intended to draw attention to what some saw as the corrupting nature of the emerging genre. Coined in 1972 by Beverly Hills/Hollywood NAACP chapter leader Junius Griffin, the term designates certain films that were believed to be taking advantage of African American cinemagoers' desire to see recognizably African American stories and characters represented in cinema. In this conception, instead of providing positive depictions of African Americans, Blaxploitation films offered a window into a world of crime, sex, and violence that appealed to an audience's most prurient interests.

While many joined Griffin in decrying the nascent trend in African American film, there were others who denied the notion that these films were engaging in any sort of exploitation. For some, the genre's frequent use of strong male and female leads who lived by their own code was empowering. African American characters who thrived outside the law exemplified a necessary rejection of an oppressive system designed and controlled by "the Man." And films set in urban ghettoes reflected the experiences of millions of African Americans whose lives were otherwise absent from representation in mainstream American culture.

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