Category Archives: 6. Cultura


 In the early ’70s, blaxploitation upended Hollywood stereotypes

Melvin Van Peebles, director of the controversial ghetto epic Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song in 1971, gets credit, willing or not, for inaugurating the blaxploitation genre-low-budget action movies aimed at black audiences. This period marked the first time in American film history that Hollywood had welcomed black talent with anything resembling enthusiasm.(…) The blaxploitation era, was brief, running roughly from 1971 to 1975, its impact would range far and wide.Sweet Sweetback introduced the biggest and baddest buck of the bunch. Warts and all, the film is perhaps the closest analogy to the progressive aims of the then-flourishing Black Arts movement. Indeed, it can be argued that because it was written, produced and directed by an American-born African outside of Hollywood, the film is not truly part of the blaxploitation genre, yet it cannot be denied that it shares certain thematic similarities.

Though lambasted by critics when it was released, Sweet Sweetback is now considered a marred masterpiece by some. The fact that a black man met violence with violence, was openly sexual, and triumphed over a corrupt white system was a signal event in film. Yet perhaps its most “revolutionary” aspect is that Sweet Sweetback was an uncompromising effort made outside Hollywood’s stultifying good-old-white-boys’ system, setting an example for future auteurs like Spike Lee and Robert Townsend. The blaxploitation films that followed, such as Superfly (1972), Coffy (1973), Foxy Brown (1974) and Friday Foster (1975), were colorful if less successful takeoffs on the superbad ghetto rebel theme.

Coffy, Foxy Brown and Friday Foster (1975) represent the feminization of nihilistic studliness. As noted in Donald Bogle’s compelling interpretation of black film history, Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammys and Bucks, Hollywood had for decades marginalized and distorted the portrayal of African women. In film after film, black women were depicted as either stout, obsequiously devoted appendages to flighty white women (e.g. Hattie McDaniel in Gone With the Wind) with no discernible lives of their own, or tragic figures, doomed by their mixed racial heritage (Lena Horne in Stormy Weather). With the arrival of blaxploitation, black women traded in the old stereotypes for a set of new ones. Gone were the girthy, saucer-eyed asexual creatures of yore; the new stars were curvaceous and statuesque women who flaunted their sexuality and took shit from no one.

In her starring roles in Coffy, Foxy Brown and Friday Foster, Pam Grier proved to be the most durable queen of colored B-movies. Unlike her buckish counterparts, Grier’s characters were motivated by high-minded moralism. Running the neighborhood like it was her private domain, Grier’s women feared no man, and were thus interpreted by some as a beacon of proto-feminism.

In the end, it became apparent that U.S. Africans as a group found the limitations of the genre too obvious to ignore; the price for cheering on putative black heroes was simply too high. Almost as suddenly as they arrived, blaxploitation’s supervixens and bucks would soon limp off the set, gone but not forgotten.

By Nicky Baxter


Gil Scott-Heron

“You can go into Ginsberg and the Beat poets and Dylan, but Gil Scott-Heron is the manifestation of the modern word. Gil Scott-Heron, the poet and recording artist whose syncopated spoken style and mordant critiques of politics, racism and mass media in pieces like “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” made him a notable voice of black protest culture in the 1970s and an important early influence on hip-hop.

“The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” established Mr. Scott-Heron as a rising star of the black cultural left, and its cool, biting ridicule of a nation anesthetized by mass media has resonated with the socially disaffected of various stripes — campus activists, media theorists, coffeehouse poets — for four decades. With sharp, sardonic wit and a barrage of pop-culture references, he derided society’s dominating forces as well as the gullibly dominated:

The revolution will not be brought to you by the Schaefer Award Theater and will not star Natalie Wood and Steve McQueen or Bullwinkle and Julia.

The revolution will not give your mouth sex appeal.

The revolution will not get rid of the nubs.

The revolution will not make you look five pounds thinner, because the revolution will not be televised, brother.”

Ben Sisario, The New York Times

Spike Lee

Black stereotypes in today’s films

Since the release of his critically acclaimed first film “She’s Gotta Have It” in 1986, Lee has confronted the issue of race in all of the 15 films he has done since then. His 1989 movie “Do the Right Thing,” about urban racial tensions, earned him an Oscar nomination for best screenplay, and Lee was nominated for a Best Director Oscar for his 1992 film “Malcolm X.” In 1998, his film “4 Little Girls,” about the racially motivated bombing of a Birmingham, Alabama church in 1963, was nominated for a Best Documentary Feature Oscar.

This year(2001), Lee noted, not one African-American person has been nominated for an Academy Award for a major role in a film or its making. Asked how blacks can improve the chances of such recognition, Lee said, “It’s a waste of time trying to strategize how to get on a list. Why validate them [the Academy Awards]?” He noted that in spite of the acclaim he received for “Do the Right Thing,” the film was not nominated for an Academy Award in 1989; that year, “Driving Miss Daisy,” about the relationship between an elderly white woman and her black chauffeur, won the award for best movie.One of his own goals as a filmmaker, Lee told his audience, is to portray different images of black people.

During his talk, he also staunchly denied that he was anti-Semitic, a charge made against him after the release of “Mo’ Better Blues,” in which Jewish businessmen exploit black musicians, and for the content of some of his other films.

“If you have any character that’s Jewish who’s not 100 percent angelic, you’re anti-Semitic,” Lee said sarcastically. “I refuse to be put in that straitjacket.” He went on to describe how Michael Jackson had to re-make a song with the word “kike” in it, but noted the white rap singer Eminem has never been stopped from using derogatory lyrics in his songs to describe women and homosexuals. Furthermore, he said, in the last episode of “Seinfeld,” the characters were seen burning a Puerto Rican flag, and no one was critical of their actions.

“We [African Americans and other minorities] still don’t have power,” Lee averred, adding, “You’re not going to see the Star of David in any television show or movie; it’s just not gonna happen. But we can burn the Puerto Rican flag on the last episode of ‘Seinfeld.'”

by Susan Gonzalez