Blaxploitation is a subgenre of the exploitation film, which emerged in the United States in the 1970s. The term, a combination of the words “Black” and “exploitation” was coined by Junius Griffin in August 1972. At the time, Griffin was the president of the Beverly Hills Hollywood NAACP Chapter and argued that the new ethnic subgenre reaffirmed racist stereotypes of Black people by representing them as criminals.
The aim was to feature mainly Black actors to appeal, very transparently, to an urban Black audience. While Blaxploitation films were originally aimed at Black audiences, as they became more popular, Hollywood recognized their profitability and expanded them to cross national and international boundaries.
Blaxploitation films set in the South tend to focus on American slavery and racism while Blaxploitation films set in the Northeast or West coasts take place in poor and impoverished urban neighborhoods.
Often, Black protagonists aim to overcome “The Man” or other symbols of white oppression against Black people. Derogatory terms such as “cracker” or “honky” are often used to reference white characters and themes such as violence, sex, and drugs are boldly elicited to provoke the audience.
Early examples of Blaxploitation films such as Coffy (1973) and TNT Jackson (1974) not only criminalize Black men and women but align with sexual stereotypes of Black women by having them scantily clad and generally, seductive.
Certain Blaxploitation films, sometimes termed slavesploitation, provided filmmakers with a way to depict the horror and violence of plantation slavery. Some of these films include Mandingo (1975) and Django Unchained (2012).
The blaxploitation film genre includes a number of subtypes including several subtypes, including crime (Foxy Brown), action/martial arts (Three the Hard Way), horror ( Blacula), coming-of-age (Cooley High), and musical (Sparkle).
Often, Blaxploitation films were independently produced and often cheaply made to be shown in grindhouse theaters. They were preceded by other styles of exploitation film, including hixploitation and teensploitation.
The timeline of their emergence was relative to a change in society’s (especially the black community) view of race relations and they were heavily influenced by the Black Panther Party and Marxist ideologies.
Blaxploitation films were the first to allow black actors to be the stars of their own narratives and cinematically present the black experience. Films such as Shaft brought the black experience to film and allowed black political and socioeconomic issues to be explored as they had never been before.
Blaxploitation replies to calls for Black representation in the film industry and creates a sense of community. Blaxploitation films inevitably changed the film industry by creating a niche for Black actors and creators but also impacted other genres such as hip-hip music, where many artists have adopted personas that parody Blaxploitation film characters. The Blaxploitation film genre allowed Black communities to receive representation as heroes rather than villains as well as giving Black directors and writers the opportunity to participate in filmmaking.