Directed by: Isaac Julien
- Director Biography
- Extended interviews with Pam Grier, Quentin Tarantino, Gloria Hendry, and Fred Williamson
Released by: Docurama
Rating: NR, safe for about 13+
My Advice: Try and catch it on IFC
Hollywood is always in search of a bandwagon to jump onto. Currently, comic books are being ridden for all theyâ€™re worth. Back in the early to mid 70s, it was ‘blaxploitation’. The history of this genre is the subject of the documentary BaadAsssss Cinema. With the rise of the Black Power movement, the time was right for strong black characters who kicked ass, fought The Man, and made sweet love. When Sweet Sweetback’s BaadAsssss Song, a movie with all the above elements and the black lead getting away from the cops, became a huge hit, Hollywood came running. Soon movies like Shaft, Coffy, Superfly, and Black Caesar were hitting the movie houses. Many black actors and film crews were getting work, but at what cost? Many black intellectuals, such as Jesse Jackson (yes, he was causing trouble back then), decried the glorification of pimps and criminals and promotion of the thug lifestyle. After a few years, the genre developed into self-parody with films like Blacula and with blacks seeing mainstream movies in greater numbers, Hollywood pulled the plug on blaxploitation. But the genre is getting a second life through the efforts of Quentin Tarantino and others. It looks like you canâ€™t keep a good brother down.
It’s a shame that this documentary was limited to only an hour because I kept noticing what was missing from this story. Before all that, what was here was good. We see the movies in the context of their time and it does balance the views of those who believe blaxploitation empowered the black community and helped save Hollywood from bankruptcy and those who thought it reinforced negative role models and conspicuous consumption. The piece gives plenty of interview time to the actors and filmmakers that were there at the time, ‘experts’ in this field of artistic endeavor, and people in the industry now who are influenced by this genre.
However, we only get Quentin Tarantino and Samuel L. Jackson when they get to talking about its lasting impact. There must be other directors and screenwriters who were inspired by this style of filmmaking. Hip-hop culture is heavily influenced by this period, but this is barely mentioned. Also noticeably absent is Shaft himself, Richard Roundtree. There may be good reasons why he’s not in this, but it’s still a glaring omission. And I don’t understand why the documentary didn’t talk about how home video market brought these movies to a whole new generation. I know when I worked at a video rental store (not Blockbuster); Shaft and Superfly were always checked out.
The only extra, besides a very brief bio on the director, is extended interviews from some of the participants. These do add some more depth to the actors’ experiences during this heady time, but all I wanted to do while watching Tarantino was to reach out and tie his hands down. Please someone give that man some Valium. What would have been a nice extra was a filmography of various blaxploitation films that viewers who are interested can get. BaadAsssss Cinema is a nice introduction to this super-groovy genre, but it’s only an introduction.