Black Film’s Brilliantly Reparational and Excellently Blaxploitational Moment Will Be Bittersweetly Brief
This is just the true Blaxploitation renaissance, but — again, bittersweetly — better.
Had COVID-19 not imperiled the globe, multicultural and diversely representational cinema almost, once again, saved the movie industry. Instead, the latest — and arguably most brilliant — moments of Black onscreen excellence in fifty years leave the film industry in a bizarre stasis. The COVID-19 pandemic has spawned a Black mainstream film evolution that has served all masters well. Films have been both Afrocentric and Afrofuturistic, plus representing excellence in documentary-style and long-form mediums. Moreover, they’ve been historic and historical, too. But like the film industry does every time it leans upon Blackness for salvation, it never leads to Black cinema establishing itself as the movie industry’s traditions fade into obsolescence.
In the face of the present and future, recapping the past is noteworthy.
Due to white people in newly-purchased homes in suburban communities buying television sets, staying at home, and watching broadcast TV, the American film industry saw a 60-plus percent drop in revenue between 1940–1970. Frightened by this loss in revenue, the film industry almost immediately leaned into crafting films that referenced “[r]estrictions on language, adult content and sexuality, and violence.” Plus, the industry latched onto centering film themes around the hippie, civil rights, free love, rock music, and women’s movements.
Between 1970–1971, the films Sweet Sweetback’s Baaaadassss Song, Shaft, and Super Fly were greenlit and financed for a combined total of $1.15 million. Thematically, the films met the scope of what the film industry was looking for: Sweet Sweetback’s an illicitly hyper-sexual romp about a murderous Black male prostitute and unlikely civil rights advocate. Shaft’s a film about an African-American private detective who overtly uses his sex appeal to aid him in his work. As well, Super Fly is a film that sets a Black drug dealer trying to “get over on” empowered Caucasians, earn $1 million, and retire from drug dealing as an unlikely heroic protagonist.