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A look behind blaxploitation and ‘Black Dynamite’

Question: Is a blaxploitation movie still a blaxploitation movie when it’s made by black people?

Blaxploitation films begin in 1970 as a way to target black audiences — especially those in the urban communities.  Blaxploitation (a portmanteau of the words ‘black’ and ‘exploitation’) films were known for their soundtracks featuring funk and soul music and featuring predominately black actors. 

Superfly was a blaxploitation filmed that was released in 1972 starring Ron O'Neal.

Superfly was a blaxploitation film that was released in 1972 starring Ron O'Neal.

However, these blaxploitation movies may have done more harm than good.  Most of the movies were based in the ghetto and depicted crime, drug dealing and filled with ethnic slurs.  This resulted in the perpetuation of sterotypes such as pimps and drug dealers — all in line with how whites viewed blacks in the inner city during this era.  Most notable blaxploitation films include Superfly, Blacula, Cleopatra Jones and Foxy Brown.

Fast forwarding to today.  In recent years, blaxploitation movies still present viewers with the same characteristics and premises as those from the 70s.  One of the more all-around contemporary blaxploitation film is Undercover Brother starring Eddie Griffin.  On Oct. 16th, the newest in the line of blaxploitation will be released, Black Dynamite.

Black Dynamite is Michael Jai White’s brain child (sort of).  A true throwback to the genre, White stars as Black Dynamite, a former CIA agent in 1972 that is called back into duty to stop an Italian mob from putting heroin into black orphanages.  With character names like Sweetmeat, Mo Bitches and Chocolate Giddy-Up, it defines the typical brand.

White said that the movie pays homage to the blaxploitation films from 39 years ago.  I intially begin writing this piece questioning why would you pay homage to a genre of movies that was so stereotypical in nature with another movie of the same ilk?  Wouldn’t it be better to do a film disspelling the stereotypical blaxploitation movie?  And is it really blaxploitation when blacks have a hand in the making of it?

But then I read a quote by White from gothamist.com were he said:

When it first started it was an incredible thing of pride for African-Americans, who only had subservient characters as representations of them in years prior. So for the first time you had actual alpha males in leading roles and the movies were actually very quality films.

That made me rethink my original thesis.  Maybe blaxploitation films weren’t bad after all. Maybe they just send out the wrong message — like rap music has done.

BELOW IS THE TRAILER FOR BLACK DYNAMITE, in theaters Friday, Oct. 16

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