Blaxploitation: History

Pam Grier
Blaxploitation was a film genre that emerged at the end of the Black Power Era in the 1970s. The ex-film publicist, Junius Griffin, created the term “Blaxploitation”. This genre was the first to incorporate Funk and Soul music in the film scores. Blaxploitation films had a predominantly African American cast of actors and audiences.
  Blaxploitation focused on Black men and women as anti-heroes and anti-heroines. The films focused on topics relating to the war against white supremacy and the white establishment, known as “The Man”. The films also displayed the main characters fighting to bring down villains in lower income neighborhoods occupied by African Americans. Blaxploitation films were known for pimps, prostitutes, hit men and drug dealers being empowered as protectors of the urban ghettos. Political activist and scholar, Angela Davis became the model for Blaxploitation style due to her status as the icon for Black Nationalism.
Tamara Dobson in Cleopatra Jones

Women of the Blaxploitation era were critiqued for their revealing clothing and their furthering black stereotypes perceived by white America. This related to women of the era rejecting the ideals of “respectability.” Blaxploitation films also displayed the victimization of women.
The Blaxploitation genre was perceived as a trend of Black Empowerment. However, the NAACP, Urban League, and Southern Christian Leadership Conference heavily critiqued it for its continuation of black stereotypes. These 3 groups united to establish the Coalition Against Blaxploitation; this was a main factor of the genres decline in 1975. 

List of Blaxploitation Films Starring Women

-       Amazing Grace (1974)
-       Black Mama, White Mama (1973)
-       Emma Mae aka “Black Sisters Revenge” (1976)
-       Cleopatra Jones (1973)
-       Coffy (1973)
-       Foxy Brown (1973)
-       Women in Cages (1971)
-       T.N.T. Jackson (1973
-       Friday Foster (1973)
-       Get Christie Love! (1974)
-       Sugar Hill (1974)
-       She Devils in Chains (1976)
-       The Muthers (1976)
-       The Big Bird Cage (1972)
-       Claudine (1974)
-       Darktown Strutters (1975)
-       Lady Cocoa (1975)
-       Velvet Smooth (1976)



Teresa Graves (1948-2002)

Teresa Graves was an actress in the Blaxploitation era that redefined black womanhood as an action heroine by displaying alternative images of black femininity. Graves was well known for her starring role as a police investigator in Get Christie Love!, the television series and movie. In 1975, she was nominated for a Golden Globe Award as Best TV Actress-Drama. 

Jeanne Bell (1943- Present)

In October 1969, Jeanne Bell was the second African American Playboy Playmate after Jennifer Jackson in 1965. She was known for her lead role as an actress in Mean Streets, and the popular television show T.N.T. Jackson. Bell also supported and glorified violence like many of her counterparts.

Tamara Dobson (1944-2006)

Tamara Dobson was an actress and fashion model, at 6 feet and 2 inches. She was known as the female version James Bond and Dirty Harry in her starring role in Cleopatra Jones and Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold. Dobson was the first strong female lead who took active roles in shootouts and fighting men.

Pam Grier (1949- Present)

Pam Grier started her acting women in prison movies in the early 1970s; she became popular with her leading roles in Blaxploitation films. Grier’s most popular films are Coffy in 1973 and Foxy Brown in 1974. Pam Grier was influential in establishing that African American nudity, Afro hairstyles, and big sunglasses were acceptable and not unattractive. She was heavily critiqued for removing her clothes and supporting violence on screen.