We began class by discussing events in history that paralleled the African American Civil Rights Movement in America, in lieu of the film Sweet Sweetback’s Badasss Song. We found parallels in the gender equality, anti- war, and communist movements of the mid 20th century. Some ran closer to the Civil Rights Movement but we found that the Communist Movement really shared an idea of class and decolonization that occurred in the 50’s and 60’s.
The first clip we watched was the opening from Shaft in Africa. In it, Police officer Shaft is kidnapped by a mysterious African group and put under a series of trials. Shaft was depicted as an almost hyper- masculine African American. He was naked almost the whole time and often forced to stick fight in rooms filled with sand and straw. The imagery symbolized a journey to Shaft’s African roots as well as the idea of Black slaves being treated like animals.
This sequence definitely contained some of the fantasy elements in Sweetback of being a Black man, but it was much more “Hollywoodized”. It wasn’t nearly as explicit as Sweetback in it’s depictions of sex or violence and was much more approachable to a wider audience.
We discussed the definition of Blacksploitation in relation to these films and the three things that Ed Guerrero said make Blacksploitation. Those things were an emerging black consciousness, a critique on Hollywood, and a collapse of the Hollywood system.
These things were apparent in these movies, but to different degrees. Sweetback was more of a racist film than Shaft because of it’s obvious acknowledgement and exploitation of racial stereotypes. Regardless, both films expressed an anger in lack of Black representation in Hollywood.
The last clip we watched was from In the Heat of the Night in which Sydney Portier was criticized foe essentially acting to much like a “white person”. This film didn’t represent the Black community even though race was an extremely big theme. The hero was still a Black man, but he didn’t represent the culture that the community desired at the time.