Beyond Blaxploitation

Beyond Blaxploitation

13 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 Teaser

    Episode 1

  • Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song

    Episode 2

    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...

  • Shaft

    Episode 3

    Directed by Gordon Parks • 1971 • United States
    Starring Richard Roundtree, Moses Gunn, Charles Cioffi

    While the Black Power movement was reshaping America, trailblazing director Gordon Parks made this groundbreaking blockbuster, which helped launch the blaxploitation era and gave the screen a n...

  • Top of the Heap

    Episode 4

    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 ...

  • Cleopatra Jones

    Episode 5

    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...

  • Coonskin

    Episode 6

    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 7

    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...

  • Truck Turner

    Episode 8

    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 9

    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 10

    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 11

    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...

  • Abar, the First Black Superman

    Episode 12

    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 13

    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...