When it comes to blaxploitation, revenge is a dish best served cool


You would think anything that has exploitation in its name would be resented, but 1970s black-exploitation films-blaxploitation for short-are continually greeted with a firm soul handshake. ‘There’s always going to be a large fan base for the genre,” says Steve Housden, chief operating officer of Xenon Pictures, a major distributor of blaxploitation DVDs. “People of all races are constantly dis­covering how even its lowest-budget films can outdo Hollywood in creativity, excitement and humor.” That’s for sure: Witness Xenon’s all-time best-seller, Dolemite (1975), in which Rudy Ray Moore plays an ex-con pimp who exacts revenge on the Mob and the Man with an all-girl kung fu army. It’s inept and amateurish, to be sure, but still compelling. The same goes for Melvin Van Peebles’s oddly revered Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song. (Sweetback, by the way, is slang for “big dick.”) No blaxploitation collection would be complete without the Rocky-goes-to­ jail saga Penitentiary (1979); Cotty (1973), featuring Pam Grier with razor blades hidden in her Afro; Foxy Brown (1974, pictured at bottom right), in which Grier replaces the razor blades with a gun; and the 007-inspired Cleopatra Jones (1973). Some of the genre’s entries are prized for their soundtracks-Isaac Hayes’s Oscar-nominated score for Shaft (1971), Curtis Mayfield’s for Superfly (1972)-or for their departures from familiar stories, such as Blacula (1972, starring Denise Nicholas and Thal­mus Rasulala, pictured at top). But the genre has a few quality films: Stylish Detroit 9000 (1973), the taut Godfather send-up Black Caesar  (1973) and Across 110th Street (1972) nearly escape the exploitation tag altogether.