Baadasssss Cinema

Last night I watched Isaac Julien’s Baadasssss Cinema, a 2002 IFC doc about 1970s blaxploitation films. Julien, best known for the amazing experimental documentary Looking for Langston, used talking heads interviews and footage from several blaxploitation films to convey what I read as an ambivalent nostalgia for this cycle of 1970s films. While several interviewees, including actress Gloria Hendry, emphasize the creative control and opportunity to work given to African Americans, others, including Fred “The Hammer” Williamson, observe that the highly profitable films helped support a struggling Hollywood studio system with little money actually reaching the creative people who worked on the films.

It’s clear that Julien appreciates the music (Isaac Hayes’ Shaft theme; Curtis Mayfield’s Superfly) and recognizes the cultural shift represented in the early films (including Melvin van Peebles’ independently-produced Sweet Sweetback’s Baad Asssss Song.

Fascinating tidbits: cultural theorist bell hooks singing the praises of Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown and archival footage of Jesse Jackson criticizing blaxploitation films. Pam Grier’s clear-eyed commentary on the political legacy of blaxploitation is also worth watching.

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