Blaxploitation or blacksploitation is an ethnic subgenre of the exploitation film that emerged in the United States during the early 1970s. The films, while popular, suffered backlash for disproportionate numbers of stereotypical film characters showing bad or questionable motives including criminals, etc. However, the genre does rank among the first in which black characters and communities are the heroes and subjects of film and television, rather than sidekicks or villains or victims of brutality. The genre's inception coincides with the rethinking of race relations in the 1970s.
Blaxploitation films were originally aimed at an urban African-American audience, but the genre's audience appeal soon broadened across racial and ethnic lines. Hollywood realized the potential profit of expanding the audiences of blaxploitation films across those racial lines.
The Los Angeles National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) head and ex-film publicist Junius Griffin coined the term from the words "black" and "exploitation"(portmanteau.) Variety credited Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song and the less radical, Hollywood-financed film Shaft (both released in 1971) with the invention of the blaxploitation genre. Blaxploitation films were also the first to feature soundtracks of funk and soul music.
When set in the Northeast or West Coast, blaxploitation films are mainly set in poor urban neighborhoods. Pejorative terms for white characters, such as "cracker" and "honky," are commonly used. Blaxploitation films set in the South often deal with slavery and miscegenation. The genre's films are often bold in their statements and utilize violence, sex, drug trade, and other shocking qualities to provoke the audience. The films usually portray black protagonists overcoming "The Man" or emblems of the white majority that had oppressed the black community in the preceding decades.
Blaxploitation includes several subtypes, including crime (Foxy Brown), action/martial arts (Three the Hard Way), westerns (Boss Nigger), horror (Abby, Blacula), prison (Penitentiary), comedy (Uptown Saturday Night), nostalgia (Five on the Black Hand Side), coming-of-age/courtroom drama (Cooley High/Cornbread, Earl and Me), and musical (Sparkle).
Following the example set by Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, many blaxploitation films feature funk and soul jazz soundtracks with heavy bass, funky beats, and wah-wah guitars. These soundtracks are notable for complexity that was not common to the radio-friendly funk tracks of the 1970s. They also often feature a rich orchestration which included flutes and violins.
Following the popularity of these films in the 1970s, movies within other genres began to feature black characters with stereotypical blaxploitation characteristics, such as the Harlem underworld characters in the James Bond film Live and Let Die (1973), Jim Kelly's character in Enter the Dragon (1973), and Fred Williamson's character in The Inglorious Bastards (1978).
Afeni Shakur claimed that every aspect of culture (including cinema) in the 1960s and 1970s was influenced by the Black Power movement. Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song was one of the first films to incorporate black power ideology and permit black actors to be the stars of their own narratives, rather than being relegated to the typical roles available to them (such as the "mammy" figure and other low-status characters). Films such as Shaft brought the black experience to film in a new way, allowing black political and social issues that had previously been ignored in cinema to be explored. Shaft and its protagonist, John Shaft, brought African American culture to the mainstream world. Sweetback and Shaft were both influenced by the black power movement, containing Marxist themes, solidarity, and social consciousness alongside the genre-typical images of sex and violence.
Knowing that film could bring about social and cultural change, the Black Power movement seized the genre to highlight black socioeconomic struggles in the 1970s; many such films contained black heroes who were able to overcome the institutional oppression of African American culture and history. Later films such as Superfly softened the rhetoric of black power, encouraging resistance within the capitalist system rather than a radical transformation of society. Superfly did, however, still embrace the black nationalist movement in its argument that black and white authority cannot coexist easily.
The genre's role in exploring and shaping race relations in the US has been controversial. Some held that the blaxploitation trend was a token of black empowerment, but others accused the movies of perpetuating common white stereotypes about black people. As a result, many called for the end of the genre. The NAACP, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and National Urban League joined to form the Coalition Against Blaxploitation. Their influence in the late 1970s contributed to the genre's demise. Literary critic Addison Gayle wrote in 1974, "The best example of this kind of nihilism / irresponsibility are the Black films; here is freedom pushed to its most ridiculous limits; here are writers and actors who claim that freedom for the artist entails exploitation of the very people to whom they owe their artistic existence."
Films such as Superfly and The Mack received intense criticism not only for the stereotype of the protagonist (generalizing pimps as representative of all African-American men, in this case), but also for portraying all black communities as hotbeds for drug trade and crime.
Blaxploitation films such as Mandingo (1975) provided mainstream Hollywood producers, in this case Dino De Laurentiis, a cinematic way to depict plantation slavery with all of its brutal, historical and ongoing racial contradictions and controversies, including sex, miscegenation, rebellion and so on. The story world also depicts the plantation as one of the main origins of boxing as a sport in the U.S.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, a new wave of acclaimed black filmmakers, particularly Spike Lee (Do the Right Thing), John Singleton (Boyz n the Hood), and Allen and Albert Hughes (Menace II Society) focused on black urban life in their movies. These directors made use of blaxploitation elements while incorporating implicit criticism of the genre's glorification of stereotypical "criminal" behavior.
Alongside accusations of exploiting stereotypes, the NAACP also criticized the blaxploitation genre of exploiting the entire black community and culture of America, by creating films for a profit that those communities would never see, despite being the vastly misrepresented main focus of many blaxploitation film plots. Many film professionals today still believe that there is no truly equal "Black Hollywood," as evidenced by the "Oscars So White" scandal in 2015 that caused uproar when no black actors were nominated for "Best Actor" Oscar Awards.
Blaxploitation films have had an enormous and complicated influence on American cinema. Filmmaker and exploitation film fan Quentin Tarantino, for example, has made numerous references to the blaxploitation genre in his films. An early blaxploitation tribute can be seen in the character of "Lite," played by Sy Richardson, in Repo Man (1984). Richardson later wrote Posse (1993), which is a kind of blaxploitation Western.
Some of the later, blaxploitation-influenced movies such as Jackie Brown (1997), Undercover Brother (2002), Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002), Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003), and Django Unchained (2012) feature pop culture nods to the genre. The parody Undercover Brother, for example, stars Eddie Griffin as an afro-topped agent for a clandestine organization satirically known as the "B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D.". Likewise, Austin Powers in Goldmember co-stars Beyoncé Knowles as the Tamara Dobson/Pam Grier-inspired heroine, Foxxy Cleopatra. In the 1977 parody film The Kentucky Fried Movie, a mock trailer for Cleopatra Schwartz depicts another Grier-like action star married to a rabbi. In a famous scene in Reservoir Dogs, the protagonists discuss Get Christie Love!, a mid-1970s blaxploitation television series. In the catalytic scene of True Romance, the characters watch the movie The Mack.
John Singleton's Shaft (2000), starring Samuel L. Jackson, is a modern-day interpretation of a classic blaxploitation film. The 1997 film Hoodlum starring Laurence Fishburne portrays a fictional account of black mobster Ellsworth "Bumpy" Johnson and recasts gangster blaxploitation with a 1930s twist. In 2004, Mario Van Peebles released Baadasssss!, about the making of his father's movie (Mario plays his father). 2007's American Gangster, based on the true story of heroin dealer Frank Lucas, takes place in the early 1970s in Harlem and has many elements similar in style to blaxploitation films, specifically its prominent featuring of the song "Across 110th Street".
Blaxploitation films have profoundly impacted contemporary hip-hop culture. Several prominent hip hop artists, including Snoop Dogg, Big Daddy Kane, Ice-T, Slick Rick, and Too Short, have adopted the no-nonsense pimp persona popularized first by ex-pimp Iceberg Slim's 1967 book Pimp and subsequently by films such as Super Fly, The Mack, and Willie Dynamite. In fact, many hip-hop artists have paid tribute to pimping within their lyrics (most notably 50 Cent's hit single "P.I.M.P.") and have openly embraced the pimp image in their music videos, which include entourages of scantily-clad women, flashy jewelry (known as "bling-bling"), and luxury Cadillacs (referred to as "pimpmobiles"). The most famous scene of The Mack, featuring the "Annual Players Ball", has become an often-referenced pop culture icon—most recently by Chappelle's Show, where it was parodied as the "Playa Hater's Ball". The genre's overseas influence extends to artists such as Norway's hip-hop duo Madcon.
In 1980, opera director Peter Sellars (not to be confused with actor Peter Sellers) produced and directed a staging of Mozart's opera Don Giovanni in the manner of a blaxploitation film, set in contemporary Spanish Harlem, with African-American singers portraying the anti-heroes as street-thugs, killing by gunshot rather than with a sword, using recreational drugs, and partying almost naked. It was later released on commercial video and can be seen on YouTube.
A 2016 video game, Mafia III, is set in the year 1968 and revolves around Lincoln Clay, a mixed-race African American orphan raised by "black mob". After the murder of his surrogate family at the hands of the Italian mafia, Lincoln Clay seeks vengeance on those who took away the only thing that mattered to him.
The notoriety of the blaxploitation genre has led to many parodies. The earliest attempts to mock the genre, Ralph Bakshi's Coonskin and Rudy Ray Moore's Dolemite, date back to the genre's heyday in 1975.
Coonskin was intended to deconstruct racial stereotypes, from early minstrel show stereotypes to more recent stereotypes found in blaxploitation film itself. The work stimulated great controversy even before its release when the Congress of Racial Equality challenged it. Even though distribution was handed to a smaller distributor who advertised it as an exploitation film, it soon developed a cult following with black viewers.
Dolemite, less serious in tone and produced as a spoof, centers around a sexually active black pimp played by Rudy Ray Moore, who based the film on his stand-up comedy act. A sequel, The Human Tornado, followed.
Later spoofs parodying the blaxploitation genre include I'm Gonna Git You Sucka, Pootie Tang, Undercover Brother, Black Dynamite, and The Hebrew Hammer, which featured a Jewish protagonist and was jokingly referred to by its director as a "Jewsploitation" film.
The satirical book Our Dumb Century features an article from the 1970s entitled "Congress Passes Anti-Blaxploitation Act: Pimps, Players Subject to Heavy Fines".
FOX's network television comedy, "MADtv", has frequently spoofed the Rudy Ray Moore-created franchise Dolemite, with a series of sketches performed by comic actor Aries Spears, in the role of "The Son of Dolemite". Other sketches include the characters "Funkenstein", "Dr. Funkenstein" and more recently Condoleezza Rice as a blaxploitation superhero. A recurring theme in these sketches is the inexperience of the cast and crew in the blaxploitation era, with emphasis on ridiculous scripting and shoddy acting, sets, costumes, and editing. The sketches are testaments to the poor production quality of the films, with obvious boom mike appearances and intentionally poor cuts and continuity.
Another of FOX's network television comedies, "Martin" starring Martin Lawrence, frequently references the blaxploitation genre. In the Season Three episode "All The Players Came", when Martin organizes a "Player's Ball" charity event to save a local theater, several stars of the blaxploitation era, such as Rudy Ray Moore, Antonio Fargas, Dick Anthony Williams and Pam Grier all make cameo appearances. In one scene, Martin, in character as aging pimp "Jerome", refers to Pam Grier as "Sheba, Baby" in reference to her 1975 blaxploitation feature film of the same name.
In the movie Leprechaun in the Hood, a character played by Ice-T pulls a baseball bat from his Afro. This scene alludes to a similar scene in Foxy Brown, in which Pam Grier hides a revolver in her Afro.
Adult Swim's Aqua Teen Hunger Force series has a recurring character called "Boxy Brown" - a play on Foxy Brown. An imaginary friend of Meatwad, Boxy Brown is a cardboard box with a crudely drawn face with a French cut that dons an afro. Whenever Boxy speaks, '70s funk music, typical of blaxploitation films, plays in the background. The cardboard box also has a confrontational attitude and dialect similar to many heroes of this film genre.
Some of the TVs found in the action video game Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne feature a Blaxploitation-themed parody of the original Max Payne game called Dick Justice, after its main character. Dick behaves much like the original Max Payne (down to the "constipated" grimace and metaphorical speech) but wears an afro and mustache and speaks in Ebonics.
Jefferson Twilight, a character in The Venture Bros., is a parody of the comic-book character Blade (a black, half human, half-vampire vampire hunter), as well as a blaxploitation reference. He has an afro, sideburns, and a mustache. He carries swords, dresses in stylish 1970s clothing, and says that he hunts "Blaculas". He looks and sounds like Samuel L. Jackson.
Family Guy has parodied blaxploitation numerous times using fake movie titles such as "Black to the Future" (Back to the Future) and "Love Blactually" (Love Actually). These parodies occasionally feature a stereotyped black version of Peter Griffin.
Action Jackson is a 1988 American action film directed by Craig R. Baxley in his feature film directorial debut, and starring Carl Weathers, Vanity, Craig T. Nelson and Sharon Stone. The film was released in the United States on February 12, 1988.
Paula Abdul was the film choreographer. The film was released by Lorimar Film Entertainment. Vanity was nominated for a Golden Raspberry Award as Worst Actress.Black Dynamite
Black Dynamite is a 2009 American blaxploitation action comedy film starring Michael Jai White, Tommy Davidson, and Salli Richardson. The film was directed by Scott Sanders and co-written by White, Sanders, and Byron Minns, who also co-stars.
The plot centers on former CIA agent Black Dynamite, who must avenge his brother's death while cleaning the streets of a new drug that is ravaging the community. The film is a parody of the blaxploitation genre. It had a trailer and funding even before a script was written. Black Dynamite was shot in 20 days in Super 16 format. The film was released in the United States on October 16, 2009, for only two weeks (with an "official" premiere at the Toronto After Dark film festival) and was well received by critics. It was released on home video on February 16, 2010.Blackenstein
Blackenstein, also known as Black Frankenstein, is a 1973 American blaxploitation horror film loosely based on Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Released on August 3, 1973, it was made in an attempt to cash in on the success of Blacula; released the previous year by American International Pictures. However, Blackenstein fared poorly in comparison to its predecessor, with most reviews agreeing that the movie was "a totally inept mixture of the worst horror and blaxploitation films".Blacula
Blacula is a 1972 American blaxploitation horror film produced for American International Pictures The film was directed by William Crain and stars William Marshall in the title role about an 18th-century African prince named Mamuwalde, who is turned into a vampire (and later locked in a coffin) by Count Dracula in the Count's castle in Transylvania in the year 1780 after Dracula refused to help Mamuwalde suppress the slave trade.
Nearly two centuries later, in the year 1972, two interior decorators from modern-day Los Angeles, California travel to Castle Dracula in Transylvania and unknowingly purchase the now-undead Mamuwalde's coffin, which they ship to Los Angeles. Unlocking the coffin, the decorators release Mamuwalde, becoming his first two victims as a vampire, turning them and others he encounters in his bloodthirsty reign of terror into vampires like himself. Mamuwalde later meets a woman named Tina (Vonetta McGee), whom he believes to be the reincarnation of his deceased wife Luva (also played by McGee in the pre-opening credit scenes at Dracula's castle).
Blacula was released to mixed reviews in the United States, but was one of the top-grossing films of the year. It was the first film to receive an award for Best Horror Film at the Saturn Awards. Blacula was followed by the sequel Scream Blacula Scream in 1973 and inspired a wave of blaxploitation-themed horror films.Dolemite
Dolemite is a 1975 American blaxploitation crime film and is also the name of its principal character, played by Rudy Ray Moore, who co-wrote the film and its soundtrack. Moore, who started his career as a stand-up comedian in the late 1960s, heard around that time a rhymed toast by a local homeless man about an urban hero named Dolemite and decided to adopt the persona of Dolemite as an alter ego in his act.Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde
Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde is a 1976 blaxploitation horror film loosely inspired by the novella, Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. The film stars Bernie Casey and Rosalind Cash and was directed by William Crain, who had also directed the successful Blacula for American International Pictures in 1972. Along with Crain, the film was written by Larry LeBron and Lawrence Woolner with cinematography by Tak Fujimoto. The movie was filmed primarily in Los Angeles and at locations such as the Watts Towers. Along with other blaxploitation films, Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde is filled with themes surrounding ideas of race, class and black power, yet it is unique in that the film depicts these themes through the genre of horror.Foxy Brown (film)
Foxy Brown is a 1974 American blaxploitation film written and directed by Jack Hill. It stars Pam Grier as the title character, described by one character as "a whole lot of woman", who showcases unrelenting sexiness while battling the film's villains. The film was released by American International Pictures as a double feature with Truck Turner. The film uses Afrocentric references in clothing and hair. Grier starred in six blaxploitation films for American International Pictures.
While not prosecuted for obscenity, the film was seized and confiscated in the United Kingdom under section 3 of the Obscene Publications Act 1959 during the video nasty panic.Hangup (film)
Hangup, also called Hang Up and later released under the name Super Dude, is a 1974 film directed by Henry Hathaway. It stars William Elliott and Marki Bey. This was the last film directed by Hathaway.The film falls in the blaxploitation subgenre of "vigilante group cleans up ghetto streets". The film follows a black policeman seeking revenge on the man who got his girlfriend addicted to heroin. The film was distributed by American International Pictures, one of the many films it targeted to the new youth market. Josiah Howard states that the marketing "almost makes it look like a spoof of the genre." Howard described the film as "low budget and flashy, but fast-moving and consistently entertaining." Leonard Maltin wrote "Hathaway has done many fine films, but this, his last, isn't one."I'm Gonna Git You Sucka
I'm Gonna Git You Sucka is a 1988 American action comedy parody film of blaxploitation films written, directed by, and starring Keenen Ivory Wayans in his feature film directorial debut. Featured in the film are several noteworthy African-American actors who were part of the genre of blaxploitation: Jim Brown, Bernie Casey, Antonio Fargas, and Isaac Hayes. Other actors in the film are Kadeem Hardison, Ja'net Dubois, John Witherspoon, Damon Wayans, Clarence Williams III, and Chris Rock. The film is also the film debut of comedian Robin Harris who appears in as bartender.
The film's main villain, "Mr. Big," was played by John Vernon.Jackie Brown
Jackie Brown is a 1997 American crime thriller film written and directed by Quentin Tarantino and starring Pam Grier in the title role. The film is an adaptation of Elmore Leonard's 1992 novel Rum Punch. It is the only film that Tarantino has adapted from a previous work. The film pays homage to 1970s blaxploitation films, particularly the films Coffy (1973) and Foxy Brown (1974), both of which also starred Grier in the title roles.
The film's supporting cast includes Robert Forster, Robert De Niro, Samuel L. Jackson, Bridget Fonda, and Michael Keaton. It was Tarantino's third film following Reservoir Dogs (1992) and Pulp Fiction (1994).
Grier and Forster were both veteran actors but neither had performed a leading role in many years; this film revitalized both of their careers. The film garnered Forster a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and Golden Globe Award nominations for Jackson and Grier.List of blaxploitation films
This is an alphabetical list of films belonging to the blaxploitation genre.Live and Let Die (film)
Live and Let Die is a 1973 British spy film, the eighth in the James Bond series to be produced by Eon Productions, and the first to star Roger Moore as the fictional MI6 agent James Bond. Produced by Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, it was the third of four Bond films to be directed by Guy Hamilton. Although the producers had wanted Sean Connery to return after his role in the previous Bond film Diamonds Are Forever, he declined, sparking a search for a new actor to play James Bond. Moore was signed for the lead role.
The film is adapted from the novel of the same name by Ian Fleming. In the film, a Harlem drug lord known as Mr. Big plans to distribute two tons of heroin for free to put rival drug barons out of business and then become a monopoly supplier. Mr. Big is revealed to be the alter ego of Dr. Kananga, a corrupt Caribbean dictator, who rules San Monique, a fictional island where opium poppies are secretly farmed. Bond is investigating the deaths of three British agents, leading him to Kananga, and is soon trapped in a world of gangsters and voodoo as he fights to put a stop to the drug baron's scheme.
Live and Let Die was released during the height of the blaxploitation era, and many blaxploitation archetypes and clichés are depicted in the film, including derogatory racial epithets ("honky"), black gangsters, and pimpmobiles. It departs from the former plots of the James Bond films about megalomaniac super-villains, and instead focuses on drug trafficking, a common theme of blaxploitation films of the period. It is set in African American cultural centres such as Harlem and New Orleans, as well as the Caribbean Islands. It was also the first James Bond film featuring an African American Bond girl romantically involved with 007, Rosie Carver, who was played by Gloria Hendry. The film was a box office success and received generally positive reviews from critics. It was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song for "Live and Let Die", written by Paul and Linda McCartney and performed by their band Wings.Pam Grier
Pamela Suzette Grier (born May 26, 1949) is an American actress. Grier became known in the early 1970s for starring in a string of 1970s women in prison and blaxploitation films such as The Big Bird Cage, Coffy, Foxy Brown, and Sheba, Baby. She starred in Quentin Tarantino's 1997 crime film Jackie Brown, for which she received a Satellite Award and a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress. She has also been nominated for a SAG Award.
For six seasons, Grier portrayed Kate "Kit" Porter on the Showtime television series The L Word, which ran from 2004. She received an Emmy nomination for her work in the animated program Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child. Tarantino said that she may have been cinema's first female action star.Pootie Tang
Pootie Tang is a 2001 American comedy film written and directed by Louis C.K. Adapted from a comedy sketch that first appeared on The Chris Rock Show, the character Pootie Tang is a satire of the stereotyped characters who appeared in old blaxploitation films. The title character's speech, which vaguely resembles pidgin, is mostly unintelligible to the audience, but the other characters in the film have no problem understanding him.Shaft (1971 film)
Shaft is a 1971 American blaxploitation crime action film directed by Gordon Parks and written by Ernest Tidyman and John D. F. Black. The film revolves around a private detective named John Shaft who is hired by a Harlem mobster to rescue his daughter from the Italian mobsters who kidnapped her. The film stars Richard Roundtree as John Shaft, Moses Gunn as Bumpy Jonas, Charles Cioffi as Vic Androzzi, and Christopher St. John as Ben Buford. The major themes present in Shaft are the Black Power movement, race, masculinity, and sexuality. It was filmed in Harlem, Greenwich Village, and Times Square within the New York City borough of Manhattan.
Shaft was one of the first and most popular blaxploitation films, which "marked a turning point for this type of film, and spawned a number of sequels and knockoffs." The Shaft soundtrack album, recorded by Isaac Hayes, was also a success, winning a Grammy Award for Best Original Score Written for a Motion Picture and a second Grammy that he shared with Johnny Allen for Best Instrumental Arrangement. The "Theme from Shaft" won the Academy Award for Best Original Song and has appeared on multiple Top 100 lists, including AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs. A prime example of the blaxploitation genre, Shaft was selected in 2000 for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."Shaft in Africa
Shaft in Africa is a 1973 film directed by John Guillermin and is the third and final film in the blaxploitation trilogy of films starring Richard Roundtree as John Shaft. Stirling Silliphant wrote the screenplay. The cost went up to $2,142,000, but the gross fell to $1,458,000. MGM quickly sold the property to television, but the television series was cancelled after just seven episodes.Slaughter's Big Rip-Off
Slaughter's Big Rip-Off is a 1973 Blaxploitation film directed by Gordon Douglas and written by Charles Eric Johnson. The film stars Jim Brown, Ed McMahon, Don Stroud, Brock Peters, Gloria Hendry and Dick Anthony Williams. The film was released on August 31, 1973, by American International Pictures. It is the sequel to the 1972 film Slaughter.That Man Bolt
That Man Bolt is a 1973 American action film directed by David Lowell Rich and Henry Levin. It stars Fred Williamson in the title role of a courier and Byron Webster. The film combined several genres: blaxploitation, the martial arts film, and James Bond superspy films (with some postures featuring the tagline "He's Bonded"). It was filmed in Hong Kong, Macau and the United States and featured several martial arts experts in action: Mike Stone, World Professional Light Heavyweight Karate Champion, Kenji Kazama Japan Kick-boxing Champion, Emil Farkas, European Black Belt Karate Champion, and David Chow, Former California State Judo Champion. It was titled Operation Hong Kong outside the United States. Peter Crowcroft wrote the novelization of the screenplay.The Wiz (film)
The Wiz is a 1978 American musical adventure fantasy film produced by Universal Pictures and Motown Productions, and released by Universal Pictures on October 24, 1978. A reimagining of L. Frank Baum's classic 1900 children's novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz featuring an all-black cast, the film was loosely adapted from the 1974 Broadway musical of the same name. It follows the adventures of Dorothy, a shy, twenty-four-year-old Harlem schoolteacher who finds herself magically transported to the urban fantasy Land of Oz, which resembles a dream version of New York City. Befriended by a Scarecrow, a Tin Man and a Cowardly Lion, she travels through the city to seek an audience with the mysterious Wiz, who they say is the only one powerful enough to send her home.
Produced by Rob Cohen and directed by Sidney Lumet, the film stars Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Nipsey Russell, Ted Ross, Mabel King, Theresa Merritt, Thelma Carpenter, Lena Horne and Richard Pryor. Its story was reworked from William F. Brown's Broadway libretto by Joel Schumacher, and Quincy Jones supervised the adaptation of Charlie Smalls and Luther Vandross' songs for it. A handful of new songs, written by Jones and the songwriting team of Nickolas Ashford & Valerie Simpson, were added for it.
Upon its original theatrical release, the film was a critical and commercial failure, and marked the end of the resurgence of Black People films that began with the blaxploitation movement of the early 1970s. Despite its initial failure, it became a cult classic among black audiences, Jackson's fanbase, and Oz enthusiasts. Certain aspects influenced The Wiz Live!, a live television adaptation of the musical, aired on NBC in 2015.
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