Blaxploitation is a subgenre of American films released in the early to mid 1970’s characterized by primarily African American casts, elements of exploitation (sex, drugs, violence, etc), depictions of empowered black characters, and the incredible use of original scores by some of most prominent funk and jazz musicians of the day. Many of these made-on-the-cheap films broke through to achieve huge box office success, bucking expectations that they would only appeal to viewers in the “urban” market. Their portrayal of black life, however, was not without its detractors. This unique genre was given its name by then NAACP head Junius Griffin, who used the designation to criticize these films’ use of what he considered negative stereotypes about the African American experience. In the years since, the critical consensus around these films has warmed substantially as they are some of the best early examples of principally black casts and crews getting their work seen by a mainstream audience. The lasting effects of the genre on pop culture cannot be overstated either, and these films deserve reconsideration through contemporary eyes and critique.
This July, we celebrate a unique group of films that represent a wide spectrum of approaches to entertainingly showing the socio-economic concerns of a generation of people of color that also happen to sport some of the greatest soundtracks of all time, featuring the talents of Isaac Hayes, Curtis Mayfield, Roy Ayers, James Brown, and Earth, Wind & Fire.