Review by Michael Jacobson
Pam Grier, Quentin Tarantino, Melvin Van Peebles, Gloria Hendry, Richard
Roundtree, Isaac Hayes, Fred Williamson
Director: Isaac Julien
Audio: Dolby Digital Stereo
Video: Widescreen 1.66:1
Features: Extended Interviews
Length: 56 Minutes
Release Date: January 28, 2003
was a singular and definitive art movement in cinema. Like many, it was born out of a need to reflect certain
social conditions, it grew into its own style and structure, and eventually, it
ended up looking more like a parody of itself than what it originally set out to
be. But it ended up as more than
just a cultural curiosity. As
explored by filmmaker Isaac Julien in Baadasssss Cinema, the rise and
fall of the blaxploitation movie left a resounding influence that today’s
director’s like Quentin Tarantino have channeled into a new vocabulary of
Hollywood history, African Americans had never enjoyed the privilege of seeing
themselves portrayed on screen the way they would have liked.
All of that changed in 1971 when an angry young filmmaker named Melvin
Van Peebles unleashed Sweet Sweetback’s Baadassss Song, a revolutionary
picture that managed to depict the black culture’s growing frustration with
American society while offering plenty of action and sex to boot.
It was controversial, defiant, and provocative…and black audiences
responded to it with big box office dollars.
Hollywood realized there was a vast source of green in America they had never
really tapped into, and it was the green flowing from black society that started
keeping them out of the red. When Shaft
was released, Richard Roundtree became a big star, Isaac Hayes won an Oscar,
and a new cinema styling was well underway.
documentary features plenty of movie clips mixed in with modern day interviews
with the likes of Van Peebles and Roundtree, along with Fred Williamson (still
as smooth as ever), Pam Grier, Gloria Hendry and even Quentin Tarantino, who
credits blaxploitation as the only form of filmed entertainment that was bold
enough to tap into the worlds of the popular crime novels of the time.
like Coffy, Superfly and Foxy Brown gave African American movie
audiences their first depictions of empowerment. Suddenly, young black men and women could be stylish, brash,
and heroic…fighting against the oppression of the system
and…surprise…still be left standing at the end of the picture!
like many movements within the world of film, the years of blaxploitation would
soon wind down. The colorful
stylings, funky theme songs and exaggerated sex and violence grew into a formula
that was so repeated as to become self-depreciating.
And Hollywood studios were also realizing that they had huge numbers of
African American audiences coming to see movies like The Exorcist and The
called it exploitation, but when the movement faded away, a lot of talented
African American performers and filmmakers seemed to fade away with it.
Stars with charisma and flair were suddenly no longer bankable.
Many quietly disappeared from the screen.
A few lucky ones, like Pam Grier, enjoyed a brief return to the
spotlight, and Tarantino casting her in Jackie Brown helped bring modern
movie goers attention to a period of cinema that helped define a decade.
just under an hour, this is an enjoyable and informative romp through some
wildly entertaining years of movies that speaks to the right key players,
keeping it all in historical perspective. Better
still, it’s enough to send today’s movie lovers out to their video stores to
take a peek at some of what they’ve been missing for the last 25 or 30 years.
Can you dig it?
qualms in this department…the video looks good overall even though it’s a
collection of modern interviews intertwined with old film clips from the 70s.
The mix of video and film strikes a commendable balance…nothing to
stereo mix is serviceable, but unextraordinary by nature
(again, because it’s mostly modern dialogue mixed with old movie bits).
It works well enough…and hey, who doesn’t get pumped up hearing the
theme from Shaft?
disc contains bonus interview footage with Pam Grier, Quentin Tarantino, Fred
Williamson and Gloria Hendry, plus a filmmaker bio and some info on other