The mission of The Department of Afro-American Research Arts and Culture to identify the global significance of the creative contributions pioneered by an international diaspora of Blackness
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Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Come Back Charleston Blue (1972)


Charleston Blue is dead. That’s what everyone thought when the notorious gangster was laid to rest decades ago. But now, a new strong of murders has hit Harlem. And what 27th Precinct detectives Gravediggers Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson want to know is why does a trademark blue-steel razor of Charleston Blue appear alongside each victim?

The Cotton Comes to Harlem cops are back, cracking jokes and heads with equal ease. Gravedigger (Godfrey Cambridge) and Coffin Ed (Raymond St. Jacques) will sometimes do the wrong things for the right reasons ­­— or maybe the right things for the wrong reasons. But their on-the-fly style can’t mask their determination to protect decent folks from pushers and thugs —and it seems that the Charleston Blue murders are tied to those two criminal elements. A midget hitman, a hood dressed as a nun and a lookout with a talent for throwing an exploding football into vehicles wandering into the wrong place are also part of this mystery where streets are mean — and Gravedigger and Coffin Ed know how to be a lot meaner.

A Piece Of The Action (1977)


Dave Anderson (Bill Cosby, Man and Boy, Let's Do It Again) and Manny Durrell (Sidney Portier, In The Heat of the Night, Buck and the Preacher) are two high-class sneak thieves who have never been caught. Joshua Burke (James Earl Jones, The Man, Claudine) is a retired detective who has enough evidence on both of them to put them behind bars. Instead, he offers to maintain his silence if the crooks will go straight and do work at a youth center for delinquents. At first, the crooks are reluctant and unwilling (and so are the kids). As time goes by they gain the trust and admiration of the kids and they start to enjoy the job. All goes well until someone out of the past tells them they have to do one last heist...or else...

Link to soundtrack review
Mavis Staples & Curtis Mayfield - A Piece of the Action (1977)

Cotton Comes to Harlem (1970)


Gravedigger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson are two black cops with a reputation for breaking the odd head. Both are annoyed at the success of the Reverend Deke O'Mailey who is selling trips back to Africa to the poor on the installment plan. When his truck is hijacked and a bale of cotton stuffed with money is lost in the chase, Harlem is turned upside down by Gravedigger and Coffin Ed, the Reverend, and the hijackers. Much of the humor is urban black, which was unusual in 1970. 

Monday, September 1, 2008

What's the purpose of this Blaxploitation Pride thing?

Depending on who you ask, it can be said that history is overrated. One thing for sure is the appreciation and preservation of it is underserved.

Collecting anything takes time, even time itself is costly and non-refundable as it moves perpetually whether we choose to or not.
In compiling a slice of Black American pie from an artistic cinematic perspective, one would be hard pressed in a long-standing debate until death do you part on what elements actually constitute a "blaxploitation" stamp of ‘approval’.
First of all, if there's any I.D. tag that's been run into the ground for almost 40 years it is the ‘portmanteau’ (French term for compounding two words to form another) "blaxploitation".
The birth name was uttered from the mouth of journalist and one-time NAACP head Junius Griffin interviewed by Variety Magazine tagging what he believed were negative portrayals in the film Superfly.
Fred "The Hammer" Williamson (Black Caesar, Adios Amigo) has been quoted many times saying "Who was being exploited? My checks cleared. The crew, the cast, everybody's check cleared. Who was exploited?"
Here's a glimpse of my homeboy David "Badazz Mofo" Walker's documentary "Macked, Hammered, Slaughtered & Shafted".
(You'll notice a few faces who knew a little of what they were talking about in this small clip)

There might be an argument that the term is not indicative of the genre other than the fact it sounds so good rolling off the tongue.
"Blaxploitation". Say it again.
Seems matrimonial to the time and style of the revolutionary and independently expressive movement of Blacks in film back then, right?
Wrong. Today's films are synonymous with the caricatures seen during the minstrel/blackface era of the 1920's. If any genre should be referred to as "blaxploitation" it's the current drab selection featuring any given rapper holding any given weapon standing next to any given third-rate actor on any given DVD cover emblazoned with keywords "Fast" "Hard" "Time" "Clip" "Glock", an 'ebonic' phrase, a number and a reference to money.
That is Black Exploitation at the highest plateau.
What you see here on BP is the sensibility of digging beyond the surface natures of the lowest common denominator and discovering hidden jewels in the most obscure of places.
Here lies the embodiment of all the untethered images you rarely see today.
As I type this and realize the broad access to resources and the limitless ability to communicate overseas in a nanosecond's mouse click, who knows what type of charge this generation can draw inspiration from within 90 undivided minutes of quality lesson.
If there were films produced along the lines of The Spook Who Sat By The Door, Uptight and The Baron, what collective intelligence could generate from it?This is still a time of desperation, depression, and disregard but now this state is met with an unlimited means of production.
The un-oppressed untainted imagery I speak of has to do with elements best associated with the genre:
Baritone voices (William Marshall, Raymond St. Jacques, James Earl Jones)
Chiseled features (Calvin Lockhart, Philip Michael Thomas. Billy Dee Williams)
Muscular physiques (Jim Brown, Fred Williamson, Woody Strode)
Gorgeous Chocolate Women (Pam Grier, Gloria Hendry, Tamara Dobson)
Gorgeous Caramel Women (Vonetta McGee, Jayne Kennedy, Barbara McNair)
Staples in most of the films:
Some authority figure excessively bullying or threatening the lead character only to become the chump or turkey by the time the credits roll.
You didn't see the star shedding tears in a compromise of either his masculinity or his money.
Responsibilities were assumed, challenges were conquered, heroes were born.
"You come straight out of a comic book", a popular line for fans quoting Jim Kelly's character Williams in "Enter The Dragon" but in actuality the so-called blaxploitation era was a conception of fantasy, fearlessness and possibility in a world best described and custom-fit for a comic book.
We are not done.
I want a Black Caesar action figure on the shelf with Wolfgang Von Tripps, Goldie, Priest and Willie. I'd like to have a pull-string figure of Rudy Ray Moore that says "Dolemite is my name, and f%$#kin' up motherfu&^%# is my motherfu%$# game", a Black Belt Jones and Black Dragon anime series (Afro Samurai ain't it!), ringtones that alert me of calls in the voice of Blacula or Billy Dee Williams.
A history that lifts itself from underground, rises above ground level and ascends to the celestial region of timelessness and immortality.
The main fixtures are dying what seems to be each month. The Struggle was tougher for those actors back then having to deal with the real world that heavily tested them once the reel was off for chastisement of the fortitude they projected on film.
One can only imagine the stories that will never be told or end up as folly from the lips or digits of an inauthentic source ala The Negro Leagues, The Negro Basketball League or the Oscar Micheaux/Spencer Williams movie era of the 20’s and 30’s.
Why do we do this at Blaxploitation Pride?
Why not?
Call it what you want and section off what "qualifies" as the term that shouldn't have been an identification in the first place for such a sacred and most beautiful liberation that was and is 70's Black film.
Ya dig it?
Mr. Wone