The origins of the blaxploitation movie can be found in the need of recognition of the black audience at the end of the Sixties. They were looking for a cinema that reflected their daily life and experiences. The ingredients of this sub-genre includes nudity, violence, funky soul music and are centred around a black protagonist in a world crowded with drug dealers, players, hustlers, pimps (and their striking outfits and cars), call-girls and bounty hunters. Well, on number 10 we have got…
10) Foxy Brown (Jack Hill, 1974)
Like Coffy this blaxploitation movie is modeled after Pam Grier who’s again playing the avenging angel. This time her revenge spree is focused on the mob responsible for the death of her boyfriend, an undercover cop who’s betrayed by her brother. Despite some simplistic plot twists a very amusing picture with some violent action scenes and again a very convincing role of the irresistible Pam Grier as Foxy Brown. The soundtrack was recorded and produced by the well-known R&B artist Willie Hutch.
9) Truck Turner (Jonathan Kaplan, 1974)
In this uncomplicated straightforward action flick Isaac Hayes is the ex-football star, now bountyhunter Truck Turner who’s chasing a sadistic pimp in the dangerous streets of L.A. A tragic accident spoils the game and suddenly the roles are reversed. From that moment Truck is involved in a game of cat and mouse between Harvard Blue (Yaphet Kotto), the ruthless L.A. crime king and his hitmen Some good performances, nice car chases and a memorable climax in a hospital make this an above average blaxploitation movie. Director Kaplan also made the impressive ‘coming of age’ drama Over the Edge (1979).
8) Superfly (Gordon Parks Jr., 1972)
The drug dealer Youngblood Priest (Ron O’ Neal), so-called because he carries his samples in a cruxifix pendant, has decided to do one last score before quitting the cocaine business permanently. Problems arise when a powerful unknown drug kingpin (his supplier) wants to keep him in business. Although a hugely successful movie with one of the best soundtracks ever used in a blaxploitation movie by Curtis Mayfield it was also unjustly characterized by some critics as a glorification of drug-dealing. Followed by two sequels, T.N.T. Superfly (1973) directed by the former star O’Neal and The Return of Superfly (Sig Shore, 1990).
7) Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (Melvin van Peebles, 1971)
Melvin van Peebles (who starred, directed, wrote, edited, composed and produced the independent picture) is the hustler Sweetback whose hedonistic lifestyle makes a U-turn after he witnesses the brutal beating of a black activist by two xenophobic white cops. He takes revenge on the two cops and is for the remaining part of the movie on the run with the police force on his tail. Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song is an uncomprimising and experimental blaxploitation movie including psychedelic and hallucinating images, use of split screen and a rather subversive opening sequence involving Melvin’s son Mario. A true original.
6) Black Caesar (Larry Cohen, 1973)
The initial motives of black pusher Tommy Gibbs (Fred Williamson in his best role) to take over Manhattan controlled by the white man, to give the blacks a better deal, changes when he starts to behave like a “white man’s nigger” himself. Black Caesar, (a.ka. Godfather of Harlem) was directed by the gifted Larry Cohen (Bone, God Told Me To) known for his smart location photography giving his movies a rare authenticity. The original ending with the black Godfather being robbed and murdered by some black streetkids was erased because a black audience would not accept that. Because of the movie’s success Cohen instantly made the enjoyable sequel Hell Up in Harlem. Great music from James Brown.
5) Trouble Man (Ivan Dixon, 1972)
A real gem this rather unknown blaxploitation movie with Robert Hooks (Fast-Walking) as the smooth fixer Mr. T who has multiple business interests. He runs into trouble when he’s hired by two hoodlums to investigate who’s stealing from their gambling operation. Hooks is great as the cool P.I. in this action packed crime movie. Although the movie was a commercial flop at the time, the soundtrack by Marvin Gaye was very successful.
4) Willy Dynamite (Gilbert Moses, 1974)
The blaxploitation movie with the most shameless pimp costumes ever but also a convincing study of the downfall of a hustler. Roscoe Orman (best known as Gordon in Sesame Street) is the successful and merciless pimp Willy Dynamite (Willy D) who rules his group of call-girls with a firm hand. His decline starts when a social worker named Cora (an excellent Diana Sands) convinces one of his girls, who has been mutilated in prison, to leave the “life”. Sands died of cancer shortly before the release of the movie at the age of 39. An engrossing picture from beginning to end.
3) Coffy (Jack Hill, 1973)
A first class revenge movie starring the queen of the blaxploitation genre Pam Grier. Grier plays the nurse Coffy who’s determined to avenge those responsible for her little sister’s heroin addiction. When she penetrates deeper into this degenerated world she finds out that there are people involved that are close to her. It took director Jack Hill and his crew only 18 days to make this violent and subversive picture that launched Pam Grier’s career. Her strong central performance was also Tarantino’s main inspiration for writing his screenplay for Jackie Brown (1997) in which she also starred. Coffy was remade in 1981 as Lovely But Deadly with an all-white cast.
2) The Mack (Michael Campus, 1973)
Max Julien is Goldie, who returns to his neighboorhood after a five year prison sentence, who becomes a calculating and ruthless pimp. His philosophy is that if you want to control a woman’s body, you also have to control her mind (as he does in the amusing Planetarium sequence). In his violent battle against his competitors and the two cops who arrested him the first time, he is accompanied by his loyal friend Richard Pryor (in a memorable role) and his brother (Roger E. Mosley) who’s trying to convince him that he’s exploiting his own people. Probably the most influential blaxploitation movie and best ‘pimp’ movie ever made. The funky score is by Willie Hutch.
1) Across 110th Street (Barry Shear, 1972)
In this fast paced and extremely violent crime thriller directed by the underrated Barry Shear (from the excellent The Todd Killings) a black police lieutenant (Yaphett Kotto) and his racistic colleague (Anthony Quinn, who also co-produced) investigate a robbery committed by three black men on a mafia owned policy bank in which seven men were killed. For different reasons the robbers are also chased by the sadistic Italian mafia lieutenant Nick D’Salvio (a marvellous Anthony Franciosa) and his henchmen. Great performances, excellent use of locations and profound characterisations. The title song by Bobby Womack is also used in Tarantino’s Jackie Brown and Ridley Scott’s American Gangster.