Thursday, February 5, 2009

Neo Blaxploitation

Black Dynamite
, a new parody of the Blaxploitation film genre, has recently received rave reviews at Sundance. The reception was so well, Sony decided to pick it up for a $2 million distribution deal.

With so much anticipation, will this film bring a resurgence of the classic Blaxpliotation genre?

In my opinion, Black Dynamite is the black counterpart to the 2006 film, Grindhouse. This film aims to highlight the atrocious acting, dreadful dialogue, and penny-pinching production aspects of the genre.

However, the truth is Blaxploitation films like Shaft, Sweet Back's Bad assss song, and The Mack were taken seriously and were much needed at the time they were created.

Blaxpliotation films provided a new identity for blacks. Once a black hero could take out the “the man” and sleep with white women on screen, there was no going back to the Aunt Jemima and Uncle Tom archetypes. This genre provided characters that blacks and other minorities could relate to. These films were set in the large urban cities that many blacks had recently migrated to rather than the rural settings of the South that they had moved from. With a backdrop of the decade’s most pressing sociological issues of Social and Urban Decay, the main characters were products of their environment. Minority audiences saw themselves in the pimps, gangsters and hustlers who were willing to escape from the American Nightmare by any means necessary.

I don’t believe that there will be a resurgence of Blaxploitation films because they never went away. The films, like the times, adapted to new trends and archetypes. From the start, music was a major influence on the genre and the appeal of these films. By the 1980’s and early 1990’s the roles reversed with the introduction of Gansgta rap. Much of the imagery and ideals from blaxploitation films appeared in the lyrics and music videos of rappers like Snoop Dogg and members of the Wutang Clan.

Nowadays there is a new politically correct Blaxploitation film. These PC films are not exploitative in regards to sexuality and violence but its formulation of an ideal black middle class who exploits hip hop culture for some type of artistic merit or capitalistic gain. Films like Stomp the Yard, Drumline, You got Served, and Brown Sugar are part of this new wave of Blaxploitation films. These films present African American’s as one dimensional characters who can be easily placed from one film to another dealing with Hip Hop Culture. These films are set in the same Urban settings and always showcase African American’s as performers. Although most of these are set on college campuses, it is not their intellect that saves the day, it is their musical or dance performance.

Of course there is always the not so Politically correct Neo Blaxpliotation films. The Madea and Big Mommas House are a return to the Mammy archetype. Other films like Soul Plane, The Friday series, and similar films take a comedic approach to the characters from classic Blaxploitation films.

It seems to me that the classic Blaxploitation films were so influential that modern black films seem to be stuck in the mold. Whether or not this is a good thing depends on personal taste. Personally, I enjoy some and I'm appalled by others.

However, one thing is for sure. The legacy of Blaxploitation films has lead to doors opening for serious black film makers like Spike Lee. The genre opened doors for actors like Will Smith and Denzel Washington. It is these types of artist who look to create a new identity for blacks on screen like the original makers of Blaxploitation films... without recycling their material.

No comments: