A genre of early-70s action film, with black protagonists. We remember Shaft or Superfly, but forget the lame sequels and imitative, B-movie crap that followed in their wake. The atmosphere (noir + Technicolor + urban decay) seeped its way into some TV detective shows of the day; some soundtracks, by people like Curtis Mayfield and Isaac Hayes, have survived the era. Do yourself a favor: rent Cotton Comes to Harlem or Cooley High instead.

On the contrary, some of the most successful blaxploitation films were written and directed by African Americans. Superfly was conceived by Gordon Parks Jr.; Shaft by the elder Gordon Parks, and Cotton Comes to Harlem by Melvin Van Peeples. It marked the first time big budget movies were targeted at Black audiences, and Blacks loved them. They were hardly stereotypical since White movie makers had never before presented Black characters as superheroes with larger than life personas.

Blaxploitation was one of the more pervasive film genres of the 1970's as Hollywood finally realized that blacks went to the movies, and wanted black heros. The films, made almost entirely by black writers, directors, cast, and crew (although most of the producers were white), were the first to really target black audiences. Predominately action films, the movies often spread into comedy and horror. Most of these movies centered around fighting The Man. The name for the genre is truly a self-deprecating term of endearment, and is not as pejorative as it sounds.

The All Movie guide desribes the genre the best:

Though the films embraced or parodied the conventions of almost all existing genres, the phrase is usually applied to inner-city crime and action films, notorious for their crude sensationalism, graphic violence, overt sexuality, revenge themes, and depiction of drug use. Characters varied from private eyes, to pimps and dealers, to feminist action heroes, but all exhibited racial pride, detested the American bourgeoisie mindset, and gave little respect to the Establishment.

The genre was effectively started with Melvin Van Peebles' Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song in 1971 and was followed quickly by a series of films that made Isaac Hayes, Richard Roundtree, Fred Williamson, and Pam Grier, among many others, household names.

Pam Grier was perhaps the first big female action star in cinema. Her roles in Foxy Brown, Scream, Blacula, Scream!, and Coffy cemented the idea that there can be powerful women (black or otherwise) in film.

One of the biggest offshoots of the genre was the music. Isaac Hayes's score for Shaft, and Curtis Mayfield's for Superfly were incredible successes and have greatly outlived the mainstream popularity of their respective films.

One final note is the effect these films had on the entertainment genre. The frame these films were based on, and especially their music, spread to the rest of hollywood and resulted in television shows such as Starksy and Hutch, Kojak, and Hawaii 5-0. While most of these shows center on the detective or cop, the soundtracks and action owe much to Shaft and its cohorts.

(One personal note: These people know how to name a movie!)

As listed by the IMDB, recognized Blaxploitation films include:

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