Cover

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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-vi

Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-x

This collection originated from years of conversation during which we discussed our bewilderment and frustrations regarding the lack of substantial blaxploitation scholarship. In the introduction to this volume, we discuss the scholars who are leading the charge in blaxploitation film studies. However, it was our editor, Annie Martin of Wayne State University Press, who emerged as our unexpected champion for this volume. From the moment that we proposed Beyond Blaxploitation to her at the Society for Cinema and Media Studies Conference, Annie has been a class act and a pleasure to work...

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Introduction

Novotny Lawrence

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pp. 1-18

The black exploitation (blaxploitation) movement remains one of the most fascinating yet oft-overlooked periods in motion picture history. Defined as films made between 1970 and 1975 by both black and white filmmakers to capitalize on the African American film audience, blaxploitation cinema emerged as a result of three social, economic, and political factors—the historic misrepresentation of blacks in cinema, the civil rights movement, and Hollywood’s financial difficulties.1 While the African American–themed pictures dominated the film industry for five years in the 1970s, initially, neither studios, producers...

I. Pioneer to Precursor to Blaxploitation

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1. The “Black Enough” Visual Aesthetic in Cotton Comes to Harlem

Vivian Halloran

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pp. 21-40

Historians of black film debate whether to consider Ossie Davis’s film adaptation of Chester Himes’s detective novel Cotton Comes to Harlem (1970) as a forbear to or as the first in a series of films that came to constitute the blaxploitation cinematic canon. However, most published discussions of blaxploitation include some reference to the film’s impact as what Ed Guerrero calls “the first of the new black films to articulate a sense of the emerging mainstream cinema ‘black style.’”1 While I will not definitively settle the debate here, I want to offer a reading of Cotton Comes to Harlem as...

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2. Racial Exploitation in Watermelon Man: Contemporary Applications

Charles E. Wilson, Jr

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pp. 41-58

Melvin Van Peebles’s film Watermelon Man does not represent the blaxploitation movement in the strictest sense. It is not set in a decidedly urban space, where the black hero or heroine is tasked with confronting violent crime in a drug-infested area. The film does not feature characters sporting urban fashions such as brightly colored suits and platform shoes or wearing towering afros in celebration of their blackness. Instead, Watermelon Man uses blackness to infiltrate and challenge the mores and belief system of the supposedly idyllic and civilized suburbs. Further, like standard blaxploitation films, it “serve[s] as a...

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3. Sweetback in Chicago

Gerald R. Butters, Jr.

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pp. 59-74

Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song is one of the seminal films in black independent filmmaking. Deemed “revolutionary,” “pornographic,” “reactionary,” “landmark,” and “trash,” Sweetback is often considered to be the film that triggered the explosion of blaxploitation films in the period 1971–75. Sweetback was considered to be an example of grass-roots Black Power, displayed in artistic form. The stellar success of the film at the box office inspired independent film producers and made the struggling Hollywood studio system aware of the economic power of the large, oft-ignored African American film...

II. The Canon and the Not So Canon

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4. In the Beginning There Was Shaft

Eric Pierson

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pp. 77-101

In the beginning there was Shaft (1971), or was it Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971) or perhaps Cotton Comes to Harlem (1970) that marks the official beginning of the film movement of the 1970s that is most commonly referred to as blaxploitation? Some scholars contend that the movement came to an end in 1973, others opt for 1975, while another segment of the academic population argues that 1977 marks the era’s official demise.

Regardless of the exact film that served as the catalyst for the blaxploitation movement or when this cycle of motion pictures came to an end, the interest in...

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5. The Blood of the Thing (Is the Truth of the Thing): Viral Pathogens and Uncanny Ontologies in Ganja and Hess

Harrison M. J. Sherrod

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pp. 102-113

In 1896, the year French medical student Ernest Duchesne stumbled upon the antibiotic power of penicillin (later rediscovered by Alexander Fleming), the United States Supreme Court made a landmark ruling in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson. To the naked eye, Homer A. Plessy was a white man with no discernible black features. In response to the recent segregation of Louisiana railway cars, he argued that because his racial makeup included only a minute fraction of African ancestry, he should be awarded the status of white citizenship. However, Plessy’s lawsuit was swiftly struck down by an...

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6. A White Film for a Blaxploitation Audience? The Making and Marketing of Detroit 9000

Novotny Lawrence

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pp. 114-136

By 1973, the black movie boom commonly referred to as blaxploitation had reached its apex as a result of the box-office performances of films such as Cotton Comes to Harlem (1970), Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971), Shaft (1971), and Super Fly (1972). Although these films did much to challenge and counter the stereotypical images that had circumscribed black performers in motion pictures since their emergence as a popular form of entertainment, they were not without their detractors. In particular, black critics such as Clayton Riley and Lerone Bennet, Jr., and activists such as former president of the...

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7. As Foxy as Can Be: The Melodramatic Mode in Blaxploitation Cinema

Joseph S. Valle

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pp. 137-154

Why is suffering so prevalent in blaxploitation cinema yet rarely mentioned or remembered in the popular and critical discourse of the movement’s legacy? With that question in mind, I hope to answer Linda Williams’s call to “recognize melodrama when we see it, and analytically to recognize the power of its ability to make us feel the aggrieved virtue of racial sufferers whether black or white.”1 My aim is to evaluate blaxploitation cinema through the melodramatic mode, because melodrama illuminates the visual, sonic, thematic, and historical nuances within many blaxploitation films. Melodrama,...

III. Was, Is, or Isn’t Blaxploitation

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8. Stomping on Stepin Fetchit: Historicizing “Blackness” in African American Film Culture of the 1970s

Allyson Nadia Field

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pp. 157-179

The term “blaxploitation” connotes the numerous filmic iterations of black urban life, politics, and style visible in the proliferation of hip, eroticized, and often-violent urban-themed films that burst onto American screens in the early 1970s. In the popular imagination as well as in scholarship and criticism, the sexploitative and stereotypical imagery of the more sensational examples of these films has suggested a greater homogeneity to black-themed films than is evinced by the wide range of genres, styles, narratives, structures, and production circumstances. Blaxploitation, to be sure, could not be avoided....

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9. Norman...It’s Not about You: Decentering Black Gayness in Norman...Is That You?

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pp. 180-200

Historically and culturally, black-cast film of the 1970s is most often tightly connected to the blaxploitation cycle. While Ed Guerrero suggests that the cycle we collectively call blaxploitation existed between 1969 and 1974, smaller/independent filmmakers and production companies were producing black-cast films that could be subsumed into the categorization throughout the 1970s.1 However, between 1969 and 1974, black-cast films were produced that were decidedly not blaxploitation films, including Lady Sings the Blues (1972), Sounder (1972), Mahogany (1975), and The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and...

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10. Making Exploitation Black: How 1970s “Blaxploitation” Discourse Marginalized Industry History and Constructed Black Viewers’ Tastes

Laura Cook Kenna

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pp. 201-224

The term “blaxploitation” came into being in August 1972, about two years into a flurry of black-oriented moviemaking that opened the 1970s. In the wake of Super Fly (1972) and its cocaine-dealer antihero, Youngblood Priest (Ron O’Neal), a number of civil rights organizations banded together, creating the Coalition Against Blaxploitation (CAB) and coined “blaxploitation” as a critique of these films. The term was intended to emphasize that the film industry was exploiting black audiences or blackness itself in the new cycle of black action films. “Blaxploitation” acted as a kind of accusation but also as a refusal...

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11. From Harlem to Hollywood: The 1970s Renaissance and Blaxploitation

Walter Metz

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pp. 225-246

One of the many regrettable things about using “blaxploitation” to group a set of African American–themed films produced in Hollywood in the early 1970s is that the label separates them from a wider critical context, delimiting them not just in time but also in quality and method. Exploitation films are a particular mode of independent cinema, frequently low budget but not always of low cultural significance. In this chapter, I propose a series of theoretical and critical interventions into the study of these films that seeks to correct this reductionism in thinking....

Contributors

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pp. 247-250

Film and Television Index

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pp. 251-254

Subject Index

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pp. 255-262