Recitation began with a student presentation that thoroughly explained and analyzed the Howard Zinn reading, “Or Does it Explode?” This then led into a discussion about the movements of the late 1960s and 1970s and their relationship to the Black Civil Rights Movement. The class discussed links between the Black Civil Rights Movement and Feminism, Communism, Decolonization, and theYouth Movements in Europe. It was determined that Black Civil Rights and Communism were both fighting against poverty as the two groups were both disadvantaged by the class system but in the end were divided by race. Meanwhile the feminist movement and the black civil rights movement were linked by their anger towards capitalism as it is a system that benefits white men over all other groups. We also talked about Decolonization’s positive influence on the Black Civil Rights Movement and how it played a part in strengthening black consciousness.
Following the discussion of the different movements we watched two clips from In The Heat of The Night (1967), a film starring Sidney Poitier as a detective investigating a murder in the South. Poitier’s character is portrayed as a refined, articulate intellectual and desexualized person, so basically the opposite of Sweetback. Some of the class argued that the film was beneficial to the Civl Rights Movement since it familiarized white people with a relatable black character and thus made them more accepting of other black people. Others argued that the film was problematic because it focused on one exceptional character and was not a good representation of the whole black community. Someone noted that this is part of the reason films starring Sydney Poitier inspired blaxploitation films, which aimed to represent the black community rather than one black individual.
Next another student gave a presentation on Ed Guerrero’s, “The Rise and Fall of Blaxploitation.” He explained the three conditions for the rise of blaxploitation, which included: the rise of black social consciousness, Sydney Poitier’s roles in Hollywood films, and the downfall of the film industry in the 1960s. He cited “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” as an example of a Hollywood film that failed to represent black social consciousness and noted how it was yet another film about a black man helping white people. He discussed the increase in black filmgoers and how by the late 1960s black audiences comprised 30% of all filmgoers. This led to Hollywood’s attempt to bank on the black audiences with formulaic blaxploitation films. By 1973, audiences were fed up with the films especially because of the way they glorified negative things like cocaine use. In addition to glorified drug use, people were fed up with the exploitation of black women’s sexuality in blaxploitation films. Finally Hollywood killed off the blaxploitation genre by employing special effects and hiring big actors to star in the films.
Jaap then asked the class if Sweet Sweetbacks’ Badasssss Song could be considered blaxploitation. The general consensus was that it was a role model for blaxploitation but did not qualify as a blaxploitation film because it was not trying to exploit the black market. Jaap asked if Sweetback is a racist film and most people agreed that it seems racist to us now but at the time it was true to life.