Beyond Blaxploitation

Beyond Blaxploitation

23 Episodes

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.

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Beyond Blaxploitation
  • Beyond Blaxploitation Introduction

    Episode 1

    This introduction by film scholar Racquel J. Gates was recorded in 2022.

  • Beyond Blaxploitation Teaser

    Episode 2

  • Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song

    Episode 3

    Directed by Melvin Van Peebles • 1971 • United States
    Starring Melvin Van Peebles, Simon Chuckster, Hubert Scales

    A landmark of Black and American independent cinema that would send shock waves through the culture, SWEET SWEETBACK’S BAADASSSSS SONG was Melvin Van Peebles’s second feature film, a...

  • Across 110th Street

    Episode 4

    Directed by Barry Shear • 1972 • United States
    Starring Anthony Quinn, Yaphet Kotto, Anthony Franciosa

    Evocatively shot on location in 1970s Harlem, this gut-punching crime drama combines film noir and blaxploitation tropes into an explosive portrait of simmering social and racial tensions. Yaph...

  • Shaft’s Big Score!

    Episode 5

    Directed by Gordon Parks • 1972 • United States
    Starring Richard Roundtree, Moses Gunn, Drew Bundini Brown

    Richard Roundtree reunites with director Gordon Parks for this sequel to their trendsetting Blaxploitation landmark SHAFT. New York City private detective John Shaft (Roundtree) gets a pred...

  • Top of the Heap

    Episode 6

    Directed by Christopher St. John • 1972 • United States
    Starring Christopher St. John, Paula Kelly, Florence St. Peter

    Christopher St. John (SHAFT) wrote, produced, directed, and stars in this unique, unsung blend of psychological thriller and Afrofuturist fantasy. George (St. John) is a police ...

  • Trouble Man

    Episode 7

    Directed by Ivan Dixon • 1972 • United States
    Starring Robert Hooks, William Smithers, Paul Winfield

    Twentieth Century Fox’s answer to SHAFT casts Robert Hooks as the unflappably cool private detective Mr. T, who takes on a seemingly routine robbery case only to realize he’s been drawn into a se...

  • Cleopatra Jones

    Episode 8

    Directed by Jack Starrett • 1973 • United States
    Starring Tamara Dobson, Bernie Casey, Brenda Sykes

    A Turkish poppy field is torched—and a U.S. drug trafficker known as Mommy (Shelley Winters) is feeling pretty burned. She phones the local cops she owns and orders a retaliatory strike on an inne...

  • Black Caesar

    Episode 9

    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...

  • Black Belt Jones

    Episode 10

    Directed by Robert Clouse • 1974 • United States
    Starring Jim Kelly, Gloria Hendry, Scatman Crothers

    The mob crosses the wrong man when it takes on a martial-arts teacher in the Watts section of Los Angeles. Now it’s the gangsters versus Black Belt Jones (Jim Kelly) as he battles to save his sch...

  • Coonskin

    Episode 11

    Directed by Ralph Bakshi • 1974 • United States
    Starring Philip Michael Thomas, Barry White, Charles Gordone

    One of the most controversial films of its era, animator Ralph Bakshi’s daring satire of African American stereotypes is an unrestrained update of the “Uncle Remus” stories in which Broth...

  • Space Is the Place

    Episode 12

    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...

  • Sugar Hill

    Episode 13

    Directed by Paul Maslansky • 1974 • United States
    Starring Marki Bey, Robert Quarry, Don Pedro Colley

    Pray you never cross a woman out for revenge and her squad of zombie hitmen! When a nightclub entrepreneur gets taken out by the mob, his girlfriend, Diana “Sugar” Hill (Marki Bey), calls upon t...

  • Three the Hard Way

    Episode 14

    Directed by Gordon Parks Jr. • 1974 • United States
    Starring Jim Brown, Fred Williamson, Jim Kelly

    Gordon Parks Jr.’s follow-up to his blockbuster SUPER FLY casts Fred Williamson, Jim Brown, and Jim Kelly as a trio of tough-guy heroes who must stop a secret white-supremacist organization that pl...

  • Thomasine and Bushrod

    Episode 15

    Directed by Gordon Parks Jr. • 1974 • United States
    Starring Max Julien, Vonetta McGee, George Murdock

    Blaxploitation’s answer to BONNIE AND CLYDE follows the exploits of early-twentieth-century bounty hunter Thomasine (Vonetta McGee) and the bandit Bushrod (Max Julien), who, after they rekindle...

  • Truck Turner

    Episode 16

    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 ...

  • Dolemite

    Episode 17

    Directed by D’Urville Martin • 1975 • United States
    Starring Rudy Ray Moore, D’Urville Martin, Lady Reed

    Dolemite is the role that made Rudy Ray Moore a midnight movie icon. The famously foulmouthed stand-up comedian and party-record king (who also served as producer and writer) plays the brash ...

  • Friday Foster

    Episode 18

    Directed by Arthur Marks • 1975 • United States
    Starring Pam Grier, Yaphet Kotto, Godfrey Cambridge

    The legendary Pam Grier stars as photojournalist Friday Foster in this adaptation of the 1970s comic strip of the same name. After being warned by her boss that her personal involvement in the sto...

  • Lord Shango

    Episode 19

    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...

  • J.D.’s Revenge

    Episode 20

    Directed by Arthur Marks • 1976 • United States
    Starring Glynn Turman, Louis Gossett Jr., Joan Pringle

    Law student Ike (Glynn Turman) is enjoying a night on the town with his friends when his life changes dramatically. Taking part in a nightclub hypnosis act, he becomes possessed by the spirit o...

  • Abar, the First Black Superman

    Episode 21

    Directed by Frank Packard • 1977 • United States
    Starring J. Walter Smith, Tobar Mayo, Roxie Young

    When a Black revolutionary (Tobar Mayo) working as a bodyguard for a scientist developing a superpower serum is transformed into an indestructible, telekinetic man of steel, he sets about unleashin...

  • Petey Wheatstraw

    Episode 22

    Directed by Cliff Roquemore • 1977 • United States
    Starring Rudy Ray Moore, Sy Richardson, Jimmy Lynch

    The great Rudy Ray Moore created a worthy successor to his iconic Dolemite with this uproariously inappropriate horror comedy. He stars as Petey Wheatstraw, a nightclub stand-up and born player...

  • Original Gangstas

    Episode 23

    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...