Beginning in the early 1970s, a wave of so-called blaxploitation cinema, with one foot in exploitation thrills and one foot in avant-garde provocation, sent shockwaves through American film audiences. Though the term was originally deployed to criticize sensationalized images of African Americans, there was far more to the blaxploitation boom than mere stereotypes: it cemented a new generation of stars for the Black-is-beautiful era (Pam Grier, Richard Roundtree) while creating vital opportunities for daring Black filmmakers to experiment behind the camera. The two sides of an often-misunderstood movement are on display in this survey of pulp classics and blaxploitation-adjacent rarities, which brings together kick-ass action extravaganzas like SHAFT’S BIG SCORE!, TRUCK TURNER, and FRIDAY FOSTER, as well as unclassifiable, mind-expanding films such as SPACE IS THE PLACE, the recently rediscovered TOP OF THE HEAP, and LORD SHANGO, which defy genre by incorporating elements of Afrofuturism, surrealism, psychedelia, and Black mysticism. Taken together, they offer a fuller picture of a time when Black artists both in front of and behind the camera were breaking political and aesthetic boundaries to reclaim their image on-screen.
Please be advised: some of the films contain offensive racist language and stereotypes.
Directed by Larry Cohen • 1973 • United States
Starring Fred Williamson, Gloria Hendry, Art Lund
A brutal assault at the hands of a racist cop changes the life of Tommy Gibbs (Fred Williamson), who will grow up to become the reigning head of Harlem’s Black mafia in this blistering blaxploitation...
Directed by John Coney • 1974 • United States
Starring Sun Ra, Barbara Deloney, Raymond Johnson
Avant-jazz mystic Sun Ra brought his pioneering Afrofuturist vision to the screen with this film version of his concept album. It’s a wild, kaleidoscopic whirl of science fiction, sharp social comment...
Directed by Jonathan Kaplan • 1974 • United States
Starring Isaac Hayes, Yaphet Kotto, Alan Weeks
In this high-octane thriller, Truck Turner (Isaac Hayes, who also composed the soundtrack) is a bounty hunter who’s tracking a sadistic pimp on the mean streets of Los Angeles. Armed with his brute ...
Directed by Ray Marsh • 1975 • United States
Starring Marlene Clark, Lawrence Cook, Wally Taylor
This fascinating, long-overlooked fusion of supernatural horror and Afrocentric mysticism has earned comparisons to Bill Gunn’s reclaimed independent landmark GANJA & HESS. Like that film, LORD SHANG...
Directed by Larry Cohen • 1996 • United States
Starring Fred Williamson, Jim Brown, Pam Grier
Blaxploitation icons Fred Williamson, Jim Brown, Pam Grier, Ron O’Neal, and Richard Roundtree return to the genre that made them famous. Bookman (Williamson), a former hood who went on to become a big-t...