PJAS 13-6

Antoni Górny
Appalling! Terrifying! Wonderful! Blaxploitation and the Cinematic Image of the South
Polish Journal for American Studies, vol. 13 (Autumn 2019), pp. 237-252

Abstract: The so-called blaxploitation genre — a brand of 1970s film-making designed to engage young Black urban viewers — has become synonymous with channeling the political energy of Black Power into larger-than-life Black characters beating “the [White] Man” in real-life urban settings. In spite of their urban focus, however, blaxploitation films repeatedly referenced an idea of the South whose origins lie in antebellum abolitionist propaganda. Developed across the history of American film, this idea became entangled in the post-war era with the Civil Rights struggle by way of the “race problem film,” which identified the South as “racist country,” the privileged site of “racial” injustice as social pathology. Recently revived in the widely acclaimed works of Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained) and Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave), the two modes of depicting the South put forth in blaxploitation and the “race problem” film continue to hold sway to this day. Yet, while the latter remains indelibly linked, even in this revised perspective, to the abolitionist vision of emancipation as the result of a struggle between idealized, plaintive Blacks and pathological, racist Whites, blaxploitation’s troping of the South as the fulfillment of grotesque White “racial” fantasies offers a more powerful and transformative means of addressing America’s “race problem.”

Keywords: blaxploitation, American film, race and racism, slavery, abolitionism

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