Is Blaxploitation Rising in Hollywood?

It’s 2017 and representation is on the rise. Get Out and Girls Trip are two of the year’s breakout hits and Moonlight, a story about a gay black man, nabbed the Best Picture award at the Oscars. We’re beginning to normalize diversity in front of and behind the camera and it is truly a great thing, and the ripple effect of this success is now bringing another genre back to life: Blaxploitation.

Before we go any further: If you’re not familiar with the blaxploitation genre, they are films aimed at the African-American audience utilizing a wide variety of sub-genres. Some of them are milestones (Shaft, Coffy, Foxy Brown), most were bad, some were hella fun (Scream Blacula Scream), and a few had iconic soundtracks that outlived the films themselves (Across 110th Street, Trouble Man, Super Fly). Even one of the most popular filmmakers working today with a passionate fanbase took a stab at the genre (and it is one of his better films too). Quentin Tarantino wrote and directed Jackie Brown — starring the legendary Pam Grier in the title role — which was inspired by the 1974 blaxpointation film Foxy Brown.

It’s been announced today that a Super Fly remake has been put into development over at Sony with the hopes that the remake spawns a franchise. This, along with Warner Brothers putting a Cleopatra Jones remake on the docket as well as putting the high-profile Son of Shaft in a prime summer spot in 2019 (bringing back both Richard Roundtree and Samuel L. Jackson!), signal a return for the genre.

Most recently, the two-high profile blaxploitation films to come out have both been comedies. And very funny ones at that. 2000’s Undercover Brother and 2009’s Black Dynamite both did fairly well. Between Get Out and Girls Trip, I think studios are catching on that not only black folks but just the moviegoing public, in general, are ready to have this genre brought back in smart ways.

Super Fly raises some eyebrows just because that soundtrack is one of the best R&B albums ever made. No one, and I mean no one, currently can replicate that. As for the movie itself? Look, I think there’s a compelling way to make that story pop, especially in 2017. We have crime thrillers every week between theatres and television, so there’s room for improvement. Personally, I can see it as a feature version of True
Detective, swapping cops with drug dealers and without all the pretentiousness that comes to that show.

Similarly, the trailer for the upcoming Proud Mary gets my blood going every time I see it. The Taraji P. Henson-led action film with a distinct blaxploitation flavor looks to kill it January. Remember, 2017 has proven that January and February are no longer dead months, so don’t be surprised if it kills it at the box office.

Of course, it’s not just blaxploitation that’s coming back, but black led movies in general. Ryan Coogler is one of the hottest directors working right now. The success of his debut Fruitvale Station allowed him to make Creed, taking the storied Rocky franchise and bringing it to a wider audience while not alienating his fanbase. And it worked in spades as Creed passed the torch from Rocky Balboa to young Adonis, the son of his former rival turned friend. Michael B. Jordan is a star in his own right, and having a mostly black cast with a black director gave the boxing franchise a new perspective, as well as one of the best performances from Sylvester Stallone, who had thought he was done with Rocky Balboa. And now Coogler and Jordan look to be taking comic book films to a genre of Afro-futurism with Marvel’s Black Panther. What’s more is that I have been seeing a lot of white kids and adults just as excited to see this film as black audiences have. And it’s about time too.

These big budget, high profile films would not be possible if blaxploitation didn’t pave the way for black voices to be heard. Even Spike Lee and John Singleton have taken some influences from these films and have embedded them into the mainstream.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though, because there are ways that this can go wrong. I hope just as with Get Out and Girls Trip that studios stay out of the creatives’ way and let them do their thing. The last thing we need is a bunch of fifty-year-old, out of touch execs and shareholders coming in with notes. Trust the black creatives to deliver the product that will have the proper voice and tone. While Son of Shaft is being written by Black-ish creator Kenya Barris, the Super Fly remake is being written by Alex Tse, who has worked with Spike Lee but also penned Zack Snyder’s Watchmen. This can go wrong quickly.

One can only pray that this is not just a trend, but the new normal. Remember, this is a business first and foremost. Often times, all it takes is one failure to throw a wrench in studios’ desire to greenlight more diverse films. But with so many different black filmmakers and black-led stories being told, perhaps there’s some relief in not having to carry the burden of succeeding alone.

In the next year alone, films like Black Panther, Proud Mary, Creed 2, and the John Boyega-starrer Pacific Rim: Uprising are each an opportunity to prove once more that diversity and representation is good business.

A lifelong film enthusiast since he can remember, Brandon is an indie filmmaker/screenwriter and freelance critic who resides in Trenton, NJ. Feel free to hit him up on Twitter to talk movies, shows, and music (especially hip-hop).
Follow Brandon on Twitter: @bwood0824
Keep up with all of Brandon’s reviews here.

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