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PHOTO ESSAY

Blaxploitation Cinema

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Roy Innis

Roy Innis, the national chairman of the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE), speaks at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on 5 January 2005. Courtesy AP Images.

As described previously, the term "Blaxploitation" itself was intended as a critique of what some viewed as the genre's exploitative intentions. The NAACP officially came out against the films, and joined forces with the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to form the Coalition Against Blaxploitation (CAB) in 1972. The CAB included nearly 400 African American constituents who worked in the film industry and attempted to effect positive change regarding the roles of African Americans in Hollywood.

In order to combat what CORE national chairman Roy Innis identified as the films' "subtle ways of promoting Black genocide in the Black community" through glorification of drugs and murder, the CAB attempted to develop a ratings system that would assign qualitative assessments to new films according to the films' representation of African Americans. The CAB also organized boycotts of theaters that ran Blaxploitation movies, and even attempted to promote its agenda behind the scenes through negotiation with studio executives.

Hollywood's African American contingent, however, was far from unified in its reaction to Blaxploitation cinema. Actor Jim Brown defended the films, for example, explaining that they created much-needed work for African American actors and writers. Fred Williamson, star of a number of Blaxploitation films, saw a double standard in the absence of similar criticism of violent films starring white actors. And director Oscar Williams understood the rejection of Blaxploitation cinema as a greedy Hollywood maneuver to keep African Americans away from the vast sums of money to be made in the movie business.

Though the reasons are unclear, production of Blaxploitation films waned at the end of the 1970s. Some have suggested that this decline was due to the actions of groups such as the CAB, while others point to general audience fatigue and the films' poor production values. Still others feel that Hollywood studios decided that they could continue to draw large African American crowds to films made up of white casts, and that Blaxploitation films were consequently not worth the trouble they created. Whatever the cause, the era of Blaxploitation had essentially ended by 1980.

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