The term Blaxploitation refers to a film genre, quite popular in the 1970s and early 1980s, in which the hero or heroes are black, and they have to fight some sort of battle, engage some enemy or otherwise solve some problem in ways involving violence, intimidation, or extreme action skills.
The pivotal point of this genre is that the main character's most significant attribute is the color of his (or her) skin, as well as stereotypical attributes associated with it at the time, such as intimidating appearance, being "naturally predisposed" towards independence, lack of respect for authority, utter disregard of manners and formalism, preference for violent solutions over diplomacy and unquestionable badassery.
Typically the main character was a good guy such as the title character in Shaft, but in some cases he was an Anti-Hero, such as Priest, the drug dealer in SuperFly who wants to do one more deal and retire.
Some of the tropes exposed include:
- Endless supply of easily disposable Mooks who try to stop the character's plans.
- Said mooks are usually star pupils of the Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy.
- Conversely, the main character usually has Improbable Aiming Skills.
- The main character often has martial arts training, though he fights in no-nonsense fashion as opposed to the period's traditional way. If he does not have, Good Old Fisticuffs do the job.
- The character being the Bad Cop in a Good Cop/Bad Cop pair, where he either has to work around the incompetent cops, or bribe/intimidate corrupt ones.
- Using the Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique on captured Mooks to extract information from the perp "By any means necessary" (a Malcolm X quote).
- Often has some sort of Time Bomb he has to find or fix before it blows up.
- May or may not have themes of The Man Is Keeping Us Down.
- Groovy soundtrack.
- Characters speaking in constant Jive Turkey and/or swearing.
- The Mafia as antagonists.
- If not The Mafia or The Man, then the antagonists will usually be some other group / organization of bigoted white guys.
- Sex and nudity, often lots of it. It can include racial references.
- Will usually have "Black" in the title.
The Trope Maker/Ur-Example of this genre is either Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (1971) or The Black Klansman (1966). Note that unless indicated, if a movie is mentioned below, it's referring to the original 1970s/1980s version, and not to any subsequent remake under the same name. The Blaxploitation genre hasn't been as common since the 1980s, mainly due to concerns from African American civil rights groups.
See also Blaxploitation Parody.
- Black Belt Jones: A more contemporaneous Blaxploitation/martial arts hybrid, starring Jim Kelly from Enter the Dragon fighting against a crew of Mafiosi who killed the owner of a karate school.
- Black Caesar: Tommy Gibbs, a shoeshine kid in Harlem, becomes a mob runner. On one of his jobs he's beaten severely by a corrupt, racist cop and his leg is shattered, leaving him mildly crippled. Gibbs is then sent to jail for assaulting a police officer. After leaving prison, he assassinates a Mafia target and leverages that favor into a deal allowing him to control a section of Harlem. Famous for its soundtrack and songs done by none other than James Brown!
- The Black Cobra: A black Cowboy Cop protects a young photographer from a gang of Ax-Crazy bikers she witnessed and photographed killing somebody.
- Black Dynamite: A 2009 Affectionate Parody of the genre.
- The Black Gestapo: Black 'protection' squad is set up to help citizens of Watts against the Mafia. Proudly taglined 'The New Master Race!'
- The Black Godfather: A black gangster starts a Mob War to keep heroin out of his community.
- Black Gunn: A nightclub owner is drawn into a conflict between the Mafia and a militant Black Power organization of which his brother is a member.
- The Black Klansman: When a black girl is killed by the KKK, her father, a light-skinned black man, returns to his hometown to infiltrate the local chapter of the KKK and bring it down from within.
- Black Rage: An albino black man (played by a white guy) escapes slavery with his dark-skinned brother, with Lurch chasing after them.
- The Black 6: An African-American biker gang avenges the racist murder of their leader's brother.
- Blacula: An 18th-century African prince gets turned by a racist Dracula and imprisoned until the modern day. Spawned a sequel and many imitators, including Blackenstein, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Black, Sugar Hill and Possess My Soul
- Boss Nigger: A violent western starring Fred Williamson and an incredibly catchy theme song. He made two others, but this takes the cake.
- Brotherhood of Death: Three black Vietnam veterans go to ear with The Klan.
- The Candy Tangerine Man: A pimp has to deal with The Mafia trying to force it's way into his business.
- Car Wash: A day in the life of a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits working at a Los Angeles car wash - most of whom are black.
- Cleopatra Jones: A black, female DEA agent fights drug dealers.
- Coffy: A nurse (Pam Grier) goes on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge against the drug dealers responsible for her sister's addiction. Notable for featuring both a female protagonist and an anti-drug message, both of which were unfashionable at the time.
- Disco Godfather: The unholy alliance of two hallmarks of the 70's; Blaxploitation and Disco. Rudy Ray Moore stars as a retired cop who runs a disco nightclub. He starts fighting against the local drug trade after his nephew gets "whacked out" on PCP and nearly dies inside of his club. Notable only for being the first film Keith David ever appeared in, which he probably regrets, in which he appears uncredited as a patron of the club.
- Dolemite: A spoof of the genre about a pimp and his karate hookers.
- East Meets Watts: Combines this genre with a Martial Arts Movie.
- Ebony Ivory And Jade: Kidnapped athletes go on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge against their captors.
- Foxy Brown: A black woman (played by Pam Grier) seeks revenge for her boyfriend who was shot down by The Man. Spiritual Successor to, and originally intended as a sequel to, Coffy.
- Greased Lightning slightly different tale, starring Richard Pryor, Cleavon Little, and Pam Grier, about an African American moonshiner and early NASCAR driver.
- The Guy from Harlem: In Miami, a vest-wearing detective uses the power of being from Harlem to save an African princess from assassination, then rescue the kidnapped daughter of a mobster.
- Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery, a segment of the book/film Cloud Atlas, is modeled after this genre. A spunky soul sista reporter and rebellious employees of an energy concern team up to prevent the higher-ups from covering up information that their latest power plant project is unsafe in the name of saving a buck.
- The Hebrew Hammer lovingly borrows many of the tropes seen in these films and throws them in a pot with literally every Jewish stereotype ever to serve up the first ever "Jewsploitation" film. In it, our titular hero, a "Certified circumcised dick," is out to stop Santa Claus's evil, antisemitic son from destroying Hanukkah. Accompanying him is his Black Best Friend, Muhammed Ali Paula Abdul Raheem, of the Kwanzaa Liberation Front who more or less acts as an excuse to play blaxploitation tropes comically straight.
- I'm Gonna Git You Sucka: A 1988 spoof.
- Jackie Brown is Quentin Tarantino's homage to the genre.
- J.D.'s Revenge: An African American law student in New Orleans attends a hypnotist's show and is posessed by the spirit of the titular deceased 1940s gangster J.D. Walker. He then gradually gains the mannerisms of the fallen one.
- The Last Dragon: A hybrid with Martial Arts Movie genre released after the trend for both had faded. "Bruce Leroy" Green battles Sho'nuf, Shogun of Harlem in a quest to be the greatest fighter.
- Live and Let Die: Even James Bond gets in on the craze, thwarting heroin dealers and Voodoo priests in Harlem, New Orleans, and the Caribbean.
- Original Gangstas: Retired Outlaws (Fred Williamson, Jim Brown, Pam Grier, Richard Roundtree and Ron O'Neal!) decide to take down the violent new gang in their neighborhood.
- Pootie Tang: An affectionate parody of the genre from 2001.
- Possess My Soul, also having the alternate title Abby, but known affectionately among its fans as "The Blaxorcist."
- Shaft: A black private detective in New York City has to find the kidnappers of the daughter of a negro crime boss. Spawned two little-remembered sequels and a TV series shortly thereafter, and a similarly forgettable 2000 sequel starring Samuel L. Jackson as the original Shaft's nephew. Mostly known nowadays for its theme song.
- South Bronx Heroes: An ex-con helps some kids escape from their child pornographer foster father.
- Space Is the Place: A 1974 movie starring Sun Ra. This film was made during the early 1970s with a majority of Afro-American actors, deals with themes of black self awareness and salvation and features a cool soundtrack.
- Sugar Hill - After her fiance is killed by racist gangsters, Diana "Sugar" Hill enlists the help of her local Voodoo priestess, Baron Samedi, and a gang of Zombie Mooks in getting revenge.
- Super Fly: A drug dealer wants to set up one more deal in order to retire. (Since there were several sequels, apparently his attempts at retirement were not successful.) Mostly remembered nowadays for its soundtrack, written and produced by Curtis Mayfield.
- Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song: A bordello's show-stud is framed for murder by crooked cops, flees and takes the opportunity to pay back the Man for multiple injustices. Not quite an exploitation film, but it's often considered the Ur-Example, so it's certainly relevant to the discussion.
- Three the Hard Way: Three men (black, of course) have to stop a white supremacist who has developed a chemical which, when added to the water supply, kills only negroes. Note that he's going to hit three heavily black cities (Los Angeles, Detroit and Washington, D.C.) so each of the heroes must take on an entire army of mooks single handed.
- TNT Jackson: Former Playboy Playmate Jeannie Bell stars as a karate expert tracking down her brother's murderer in Hong Kong. Similar to Black Belt Jones, except with Bell losing her clothes before each fight scene.
- Truck Turner: Isaac Hayes soundtracks and stars in this movie, where he plays a bounty hunter who kills a notorious fugitive pimp and subsequently gets a bounty put on his head by the Los Angeles pimp community. Co-stars Nichelle "Uhura" Nichols as an extremely bad-tempered and foul-mouthed madam who acts as the Big Bad of the picture.
- Undercover Brother is basically an Austin Powers-esque parody of the genre, with the main character being a 70's blaxsploitation protagonist in modern times trying to stop The Man from mind controlling black America with a chain of fried chicken restaurants.
- Vampire in Brooklyn: Basically Blacula in mid-90s New York. Stars Eddie Murphy and was advertised as a comedy, but the movie switches to a straight horror film about halfway through.