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PHOTO ESSAY

Blaxploitation Cinema

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Fred Williamson

Fred Williamson in 'The Soul of Nigger Charley', directed by Larry G. Spangler, 1973. Courtesy of Paramount Pictures/Photofest.

Certain tropes within Blaxploitation cinema lent themselves to other genres of film as well. Whereas most traditional Blaxploitation films are classified as dramas or action movies, a number of films produced in the mid-1970s might be more accurately characterized as Blaxploitation Westerns and comedies. Westerns commonly incorporated violence and themes of justice and revenge, and were a natural cousin to Blaxploitation films, while crowd-pleasing comedies brought Blaxploitation themes to wider audiences.

Fred Williamson starred in a number of Westerns between 1972 and 1976. Though dismissed by critics, Williamson's first Western, The Legend of Nigger Charley, was a box office success and led to two follow-up films, 1973's The Soul of Nigger Charley and 1974's Boss Nigger. Though set primarily in the Old West, the films presented Williamson's characters as typical Blaxploitation heroes: strong, passionate men in search of their own brand of justice. Other notable Blaxploitation Westerns from the era include Adios, Amigo and Take a Hard Ride, whose director, Antonio Margheriti, brought a bona fide Spaghetti Western pedigree to the production.

The typical conceits of many Blaxploitation films proved to be fertile territory for many comedy writers, as well. Bill Cosby found one of his first big-screen roles opposite Sidney Poitier in the 1974 crime comedy Uptown Saturday Night. The picture, which may or may not have been poking fun at the Blaxploitation films of the time, was well-received and led to two sequels. (Cosby was presumably intimately familiar with the genre: it is widely acknowledged that he provided a loan to filmmaker Melvin Van Peebles for the filming of his seminal early Blaxploitation film Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song.)

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