Podcast Episode 60: Celebrating Blaxploitation Cinema
David Walker, writer of the 'Shaft' comics, explains why he loves these films from the 70s
Beth Accomando: Welcome back to another edition of KPBS Cinema Junkie podcast. I’m Beth Accomando. It’s February and in honor of Black History Month I wanted to just talk about something I love, but it sometimes dismissed as not worthy of attention and that’s black exploitation. [Clip playing] You've been Coffy-tized, Blacula-rized and Superfly-ed. You’ve been macked, hammered, slaughtered and shafted, and now we are going to turn you on to some brand new guy, you are going to be glorified, unified and filled with pride when you see Five On The Black Hand Side. The godfather of Harlem is doing it again. In Black Caesar he ate up the town, now he is hungry for more, more action – more excitement – more everything. Fred Williamson is back and there is going to be hell up in Harlem. Hell you jive hustlers, you stoned foxes, you mean dudes, watch out because Slaughter is back in town. [End of clip] Beth Accomando: During its heyday in the 1970s, these films were designed for an urban black audience but ended reaching far beyond. To discuss black exploitation with me, I am thrilled to have as my guest David Walker. Your credits are so diverse and numerous, I’m going to let you decide what you’d like to highlight right now, so tell me what are you working on right now of your many projects. David Walker: What am I not working I guess, this has been a crazy month for me. I’m writing a comic, a shaft comic book based on the iconic character Shaft from the 1970s, which was – there was a series of books by Ernest Tidyman series of film starring with Round Tree. Back in 2014, I helped bring that character back first in the form of a comic book theories and then as a novel which just came out this month – the novel just came out, and then a sequel to the comic book came out, so I have two shaft projects simultaneous on the stand which is just kind of odd, and then I’m writing for Marvel Comics right now, I’m writing the book called Power Man and Iron Fist which was in the late 70s and mid 80s was a very popular series. The character Power Man a lot of people know him now, but his real name which is Luke Cage who was the co-star on the hit Netflix series Jessica Jones. Luke Cage is getting his own series on Netflix sometime later this year and he’s getting own comic again with his former partner now is – they’ve reunited, they’ve gotten a band back together, so it’s Power Man and Iron Fist, Iron Fist being a Kung Fu superhero. So, three of the bigger things that I’ve got going on right now and on top of that I am adjunct college professor too which is really weird to talk about because that’s new, that’s like – that just entered into my realm of existence very recently. Beth Accomando: Well, it also seems now that you are getting a lot more professors being able to teach pop culture related classes and there were maybe 20 years ago. David Walker: Yeah, there are and it’s interesting to me because I’ve been writing about pop culture and the intersection of pop culture with say racial ideology, primarily racial ideology for more than 20 years, so now it’s sort of interesting because I’m constantly getting asked to come do a guest lecture at this school or that school and now I’m actually teaching them – I'm teaching writing which is that’s what I do, but going way back this sort of exploration of intersection between pop culture and race has always fascinated me, fascinated me my whole life and Blaxploitation more than anything else. There is other things that I love, Kung Fu movies especially Kung Fu movies in the 70s out of Hong Kong and the European westerns that came out in 60s and early 70s were also fascinating to me, a lot of times they represents sort of weird cross cultural mash ups if you will and there is always more going on beneath the surface with a lot of these things, they tend to be – historically, the talent been dismissed, it’s just now I think some people are able to look at some of these things, okay, wait a second, there’s a lot going on here. The director of this particular movie, he was a communist and clearly there is little bit of Marxist underpinnings to the story that's going on. So, for me, it’s fun pointing that out in a way that’s not like I’ll get into trouble for saying this but that boring academic speak, which is talking about it in ways that the average person on the streets be like oh, wow, this is really cool. Beth Accomando: And it seems so much more accessible. David Walker: It should be accessible, yes, that’s the key. Academia doesn’t necessarily want to be accessible, as someone who works in Academia now – I have to be careful not to bite the hand that feeds me, but they only feed me scraps, so I can be pretty critical. I happen to think that knowledge and information should be available to everybody and part of that entails – Malcolm X once said – I’m paraphrasing that he said, the moments that we have, ‘let’s speak to the people of earth in a language they can easily understand’ which means you don’t necessarily drop words like diaspora or rubric or pedagogy in your everyday conversation when you’re taking to people – you talk to them – again, in vernacular that’s easy to understand and easy to relate to, that invites dialogue as opposed to be talking at a person. Beth Accomando: So the fact that you are working on these Shaft novels and comics makes it even more appropriate that I talk to you about Black Exploitation during this Black History Month. For people who may not be familiar with this terminology or the films that came out during this period, how would you define Black Exploitation? What kind of criteria does a film need to meet to qualify to be part of this group? David Walker: Therein lies the age old question, so the answer that I formulated over the years is a two part, one is that you have to be very specific to an era and that era is measured from 1970 to 1979, it was very clear delineation, anything that comes before 1970, we would have to call it pre-Blaxploitation, and anything that comes after ‘79, we have to call it post-Blaxploitation. So that's specific in that it’s an era. Beyond the era if you want to talk about it as a genre or something like that, I don’t talk about it as a genre so much, but I talk about it as a designated market and by that I mean films that were produced and marketed primarily to a black audience. When people talk about Blaxploitation films, they often – most often they’re talking about action films or crime drama that sort of thing, because that was what the vast majority of them were but there were also comedies or also horror films, there were even documentaries, there was all kinds of things that you could include in that. And if you really want to get broad, you could include television shows or you could include aspects of the television show like as an example the TV show Starsky and Hutch, there was the character Huggy Bear that Antonio Fargas played so well and so memorably, and I think I theorize that that character is a direct result of what Blaxploitation did. So, we saw a lot of that, again like on television shows, you see a black guest star pop up in a role that 10 years earlier you were never going to see someone in that kind of role, and then 10 years later, those sort of roles went away. It was a very complex sort of artistic movement that started out with a very commercial, very capitalistic goals in mind, but isn't that what most pop culture pop art is. Beth Accomando: Did these films come through the mainstream studios? How were they getting financed and how were they being made? David Walker: It was a combination of factors, a lot of them were independently produced, someone would go out and they would raise money, some of that money came from questionable sources, people working in the launder or whatever, illicit drug money or whatever, mafia money, but the vast majority of them were distributed by legitimate distributors. At the time AIP American International Pictures was still sort of de-reigning distributor of B movies that played at either drive-ins or inner-city theaters, so AIP released movies like most of Pam Grier movies like Foxy Brown, Coffee, and Friday Foster. [Clip playing] Never fear Pam Grier is here. A black God has come to earth. Pam Grier is Friday Foster and she is running with a heavy crowd, Yaphet Kotto, Eartha Kitt, Godfrey Cambridge, Jim Backus, Thalmus Rasulala, Ted Lange and Scatman Crothers in Friday Foster. When some big money dudes in the capital got too hungry for power Friday made their plans turn sour. Happy New Year boss. She is a super sister who is going to hit DC like a beautiful stick of TNT. Look out. When this Fox shakes her tail, half of Washington may end up in jail. Lord have mercy. Her name is Friday, but you can dig her any day of the week. Pam Grier is Friday Foster. Rated R, Under 17 not admitted without parent. [End of clip] David Walker: A lot of the Fred Williamson movies Black Caesar, Hell Up in Harlem and some of the more classic films of the Blaxploitation era came out through AIP, but pretty much every major distributor had Blaxploitation titles. Usually what they do was they picked up these films somewhere along the line in terms of distribution, so most of them weren’t necessarily directly financed by the studios, they were independently financed and then picked up, which is still a pretty common practice although it's not as common now in a days where a movie cost $250 million to produce, but you take a movie like say Super Fly, because Super Fly cost less than $1 million to produce, it was financed by independent investors with most of them came from within the black community, and then picked up by Warner Bros, which ended up making something like $20 million or $30 million at the box office, which in 1972 a $20 million, $30 million dollars was a ton of money, that was sort of the MO of a lot of these movies where they were really inexpensive to produce, they were picked up by the distribution companies and then released and very targeted – in a very targeted distribution pattern, which happened to coincide with a shift that was going on in terms of population centers in the US. It was a time when we were at the tail end of the migration of people from the cities out to the suburbs, this is during the birth of suburbs, but yet most movie theaters still existed within the city proper and what we think of as a movie theater is now what’s tend to be these giant Megaplexes, 10 screens and 12 screens, none of those existed yet. If you lived in Chicago, the movie theaters reader in Chicago where they were drive-ins that were more out in the suburbs. And so, these particular films played into the fact that the entire population demographic of major metropolitan areas had shifted considerably post-World War II. Beth Accomando: And many of these films were very successful, I mean that’s part of – I don’t know if people remember that, but they were – they were finally tapping into an audience that really wanted these products. David Walker: Yeah, we were having just – I was just having conversation with some guys this last two, three weeks ago, and what’s kind of funny they didn't believe me but I was able to pull it up online was that there was a time when the Godfather was the number one movie in the theaters in the US and then the Super Fly came and bumped Godfather out of the number one spot, where Super Fly was out grossing Godfather in the movie theatres. Now the interesting thing they keep in mind is nowadays when a movie comes out movie like Star Wars: The Force Awakens comes out and it opens on 4,000 screens literally, 3000-4000 screens, but in the 1970s a movie like the Godfather would come out and it might only open on 10 screens, and those 10 screens would be five screens in New York City, and then five screens in Los Angeles, greater Los Angeles area, and then over the course of the next three or four months, it would gradually roll out to the rest of the country. Movies theatrical release may take months as opposed to it being dumped in one weekend, and but in terms of the Blaxploitation movies, if you look at the charts in whether it’s Variety or a Hollywood reporter from 1971 to 1974, you’re going to see that the top 100 films really – there's – I won’t say dominated, but there is within the top 100, there's always a minimum of 10 to 15 Blaxploitation films in the top grossing films between 1971-72ish, but clearly all the way to 74. Those numbers started to taper off around ’75, ’76 and by ’77 that they're not dominating like they used to be, but like yeah, if you look ’72, ’73 you’d be amazed at what you would see. I think I did count where like 30 of the top 100 films in one given week were what you would consider Blaxploitation meanings. Beth Accomando: Okay. You’re talking about this at a time when we have black actors threatening to boycott the Academy Awards because there are no black actors nominated. The pool of films that voters had to choose from in terms of films that featured black stories was pretty small, I mean the contrast scenes – I mean I understand that those films were not which you would necessarily call A List kind of movies that were coming up, but there were a lot of films, I mean I know that when I was growing up I could name five or ten black actors and celebrities from movies easily and now it seems almost harder to do it, seems almost counterintuitive. David Walker: What happened is it’s being shifted considerably in terms of the way Hollywood does business in terms of way people go to the movies and in a way movies were presented, so again by the 1980s, you had – in ’70, you didn’t have a ton of multiplex screens throughout the suburbs. The indoor shopping mall was still kind of a thing of the future, but by 1985 it was very real, conversely the drive-in was something that was still very real and viable in the 1970s, but it was dying off and home video was practically nonexistent in the ’70s or by the mid-to-late ’80s was dominant. And so, all these things factor into how movies changed and not just any one regard, but the entire spectrum of what the motion picture industry is all about. I always tell people if you look at a movie Jaws, the two biggest movies of the ’70s in terms of finance –financial success was Jaws and Star Wars, and both of those movies made money in ways that no movie had ever made money before, but also they catered to such a wide audience and in such a way where Blaxploitation was essentially what we would call – now we would call like niche marketing. The thing about niche marketing comes in handy when the market is kind of screwy and nobody knows how to make money off of everyone, but once you figure out a way to make money off of everyone, once you have a movie that everybody goes to, Star Wars been a prime example, once you have a movie that every single person is going to go see, you no longer need to make movies for – now they call them quadrants, but another term demographics right, everybody went to see Star Wars, so now we don't need to see necessarily movie specifically with the female lead or specifically with the black lead, because Star Wars gave us that, right. It’s just kind of weird you have to understand how the motion picture industry works and you have to understand that the motion picture industry does not exist to serve the best interests of the audience or to make the audience feel good. It exist to make money off the audience and the most expedient way they can do it they will do it, and that means combining aspects of former niche markets or niche genres into one film, they’re going to do it. Beth Accomando: Now, these films featured a lot of times all black cast, sometimes had black directors and writers, not always, why do you think these films divide audiences today, because they do sometimes get dismissed I know that, we had a proposed screening once over here at college campus and it was rejected, they said that they wouldn’t screen Zombies of Sugar Hill, because they had concerns about it, so what do you think divides people and makes them not appreciate what some of these Black Exploitation films did? David Walker: Well, I think a lot of it is term – first off, the term Black Exploitation or Blaxploitation certainly has a negative connotation to it, it doesn’t sound that inviting I think, but I also think that people like misunderstand those movies. A film series here once a year in February at a local theater, we program some movies and a few years back we decided we want to show Across 110th Street, which is considered a Blaxploitation film and was directed by a white guy but its stars are predominantly black cast, and we had a packed audience, most of them had never seen it before, and afterwards, we’re talking and people like wow, that’s one of the best crime films in the 1970s, and people were talking about it on par with a movie like the French Connection or Serpico or something like that, and I happen to think Across 110th Street, one of the best crime films in 70s. [Clip playing] Today that dude kind [indiscernible] [00:20:44] for over $300,000. [End of clip] David Walker: But not everybody knows that, well, they go oh, yeah, that’s a Blaxploitation right and the conversation just kind of ends there. And so, I think there's a lot of misunderstanding like I'm actually doing research for a new book that I’m going to put out on Blaxploitation films which is going to be very different than a lot of other books, because in a lot of ways it's sort of a personal memoir. The personal memoir mixed with the sort of historical overview of these films and part of what I’ve been doing have been collecting as many overviews as I can find from like The New York Times and LA Times and variety Hollywood Reporter and time and time again it’s like the people that were reviewing these movies – these are like 60 and 70 year old white people have been writing about films since Gone With The Wind came out. They had no idea what to make of these movies. It’s the same thing that happened in the ‘80s, like ‘70s or early 80s with the emergence of hip-hop and like most music critics didn't know how to write about hip-hop, because they didn't understand it. And then, you had the emergence of a writer like Nelson George or Greg Tate, like these voices who came up from the ranks of the same culture that music spoke to and like made sure that it was written about in a way that was – the music itself was taken as seriously as any other form of music whether it’s Rock or Jazz or anything else like that. Unfortunately, Blaxploitation never had that, it never really had that serious critic who was like oh okay, yeah, let’s talk about like all of these movies for what they are or what they could be as opposed to going – you know not Vincent Canby, but Vincent Canby – well I can’t think of the – Roger whatever his name was who is writing for The New York Times, most of them didn't get these films. It’s interesting I shot to a certain extent with some of the film criticism of a movie like Straight Outta Compton, not as much so because I think most film criticism is a truly lost art form, but I think a lot of people didn't even understand what Straight Outta Compton really was or why that Straight Outta Compton is and of itself a Blaxploitation movie which – people like no, it wasn’t and it’s like I could build the case like three senses, I can build the case for why every Denzel Washington movie that's ever come out has been a Blaxploitation movie, why every Will Smith movie, why Eddie Murphy movie, every single Eddie Murphy movie has been a Blaxploitation movie because even that we call it something different it still is what it is. Beth Accomando: What is that thing if you had to explain to somebody who says like oh, those are A List Hollywood actors, how can you possibly call that a Black Exploitation film? What is it that you see in those films that is making them like that? David Walker: It comes down to the primary thing that it’s a – these are movies that are in one capacity or another are being made and marketed to appeal to a black audience. Now, when you get an actor like Denzel Washington or Will Smith, they are amongst the most popular actors in the world right now and so, the movies are meant to have more of a universal appeal, but the fact the matter is that they know that if they put Denzel in a movie, a Denzel movie is going to make more than say if they put Steven Seagal in the same movie, at its bare essence Black Exploitation was taking this concept of what black folks are what the black experience America is, putting it up on screen and attempting to make money off of it, exploitation is what we do with it, every single product, anything that we exchange money for is an exploitable commodity, it’s plain and simple as that, we just don't call it all the time. And so that's why it’s still the same thing and a lot of times some of the movies we look at like say Denzel’s movie The American Gangster which came out a few years back that Ridley Scott directed was like – the difference between that and say Black Caesar from 1973 with Fred Williamson, directed by Larry Cohen, the big difference between those two movies honestly was about $100 million. Black Caesar cost about $100,000, whereas American Gangster cost a minimum of $40 million because Denzel had paid $40 million for that movie. So, we know it actually cost at least $60-$70 million, that was the biggest difference. If all they had was $100,000 to make American Gangster, they could not have made a movie that was better than Black Caesar; Black Caesar was a great movie. [Clip playing] A king of crime is born; a mob boss was started in the streets, ready to do anything for a payoff no matter what it cost. [End of clip] Beth Accomando: What seemed significant to me about those films was that you had black characters driving the plot. They were the ones that were moving it forward and it wasn't just black characters reacting to what white characters were doing, what do you see as being important about these films that it’s kind of a block of films? David Walker: Yeah, there was a type of representation that we saw on these films that we don’t see as often anymore, and part of that is – it’s like okay, so a great example would be the early films of Eddie Murphy, where Eddie Murphy was in a movie like say Beverly Hills Cop or Trading Places where he was maybe the only black character that existed and he was sort of dropped into this all-white world without any other context of a black existence or a black reality, now that happened in some of the ‘70s movies too, but you take a movie like say Truck Turner with Isaac Hayes… [Clip playing] Isaac Hayes is the last of the bounty hunters. You are going to bring him out or do we have to go in and get him? Pam Grier is Foxy Brown the meanest chick in town. You tell me who you want to and I’ll do the hell out of it. When they get it on the action takes off. [End of clip] David Walker: It started out originally was being developed as a movie for a white actor, and then it went through some changes and they brought in Isaac Hayes, but that movie and those characters exist in a world where Isaac Hayes isn’t the only black character in the movie and where he’s interacting and he’s moving to a world where there is other black folks, and so it creates this whether it’s true to real life or not is not the question, but what it does is it creates a world in which there's more than one black person or there is more than just say two or three black people, which in terms of – and it’s not just black folks, it’s Asians and Latinos and it’s women and it’s clear folks, a lot of times our representation in popular culture has reduced this level of tokenism in which we’re the only one in the room, and by default not only are we the only one in the room, we’re the only one in the neighborhood, and we’re not only the only one in the neighborhood, we’re the only one in the world, and that’s the thing that Blaxploitation was interesting but not all of them but a lot of them was that they existed in these world where they weren’t the only black character, and that begins to change your whole perception of that artificial reality that film creates. Beth Accomando: Sometimes people criticize Black Exploitation films because of stereotypes that appear on them, but in that context, are stereotypes always a negative? Is there a way that stereotypes can be seen as good or positive and I mean that in the sense of if a lot of these Black Exploitation films show characters who are involved in a crime, but you’re getting these films where you've got a large black cast and you’ve got characters that are driving the plot in ways that mainstream audiences haven't been seeing in the past, is there some positive element to that even if there are some stereotypes contained in those films? David Walker: Sure. My answer to that is sure, of course, you watched the Godfather Part Two, well go back to the ’30s and ’40s and watch any of those crime melodramas that starred whether it was Edward G Robinson or Jimmy Cagney or George Raft any of those guys and all these movies are stilled with – every film is stilled with stereotypes and archetypes, that’s what we as audiences have come to understand and see, and so the question then becomes how well is that portrayed, how well is that character developed, so a film that took a lot of heat when it came out and still continue to take a lot of heat is the movie Super Fly, Gordon Parks Jr. directed and Ron O’Neal stars in acrobatic drug dealer. [Clip playing] This dude is bad, and he ain’t just fly, he is Super Fly yeah, Super Fly. When it comes to women, they come to him, but it is still not enough, he wants a big score, a million in cash yeah, the big one. This is a chance and I want to take it. Now do I have to kill somebody. [End of clip] David Walker: And it’s like yeah, there is a certain stereotype to the fact that Ron O’Neal is playing a character who is a drug dealer but those stereotypes are also what allow us to recognize these characters as we are watching the film and then the question becomes – how is that character developed throughout the course of the movie? What sort of growth in art do they have? Do they come out on another side and the problem is – and I think this is a valid concern was that within the Blaxploitation movies, the vast majority of the characters that we saw were some sort of criminal type characters, they were gangsters, they were pimps or they were drug dealers or whatever, they were vigilantes, but I would counter that, that’s what most movies are, there's not a lot of huge box office hits about doctors who are looking for the cure for athletes foot. If you could make a movie like that, that was a big hit, we’d see a thousand other movies like that, but the people tend to go to the movies to escape and to sort of indulge – I think a lot of times the darker side of their persona, they want to see antiheroes again which is why – I mean how many people considered Godfather and Godfather part two to be amongst the greatest American films of all time, when Michael Corleone character, there's not much about him polite. The movie Goodfellas, there are no good people in Goodfellas, nobody. They're all like morally reprehensible, yeah we love that movie, we love those characters, I watch that movie at least once a year I’ve got it memorized. I think it's the same thing with Blaxploitation films, it’s just that – at the same time there is some sense and balance in – if you want call it white cinema, so yeah you get a movie like Goodfellas or the Godfather movies, but then you also get wholesome more family entertainment – especially during the ’70s, there wasn’t a lot of counter programming to it, so you got the Mac or Willie Dynamite but you didn't get a lot of films that weren’t about sociopaths or urban dysfunction, I mean that’s it, every black movie – most black movies are about urban dysfunction and some capacity Tyler Perry's made a fortune off of it and that’s what all of the good films in the 90s were in and merely every black actor nominated for an Oscar or win an Oscar has won for playing a morally reprehensible character, that’s the problem. Beth Accomando: Now, the Black Exploitation films were quite a range of films also, I want to play – you provided me with some wonderful audio, so I want to make sure we play some of these clips, but some of the films were obviously just a rip off of white films and just slapping the word black somewhere in the title, the one I wanted to play was the Dr. Black and Mr. Hyde. David Walker: Oh, that movie was terrible too, absolutely terrible. [Clip playing] The fear of year is here Dr. Black and Mr. Hyde, a monster he cannot control has taken over his very soul, a screaming demon rages inside turning him into Mr. Hyde an unstoppable black superman, super strong, supernatural and super bad. [End of clip] Beth Accomando: So, some of the films were obviously just can we make money by changing the color of this film and adding black to the title, but there were also some really strong films that came out, what are some of the films that you’d want to highlight as kind of the best that Black Exploitation offered? David Walker: Well for sure The Spook Who Sat by the Door is amazing, I think it’s like one of my favorite films of all time. [Clip playing] The Spook Who Sat by the Door, the controversial bestselling novel now becomes a shocking screen reality, the story of the first black agent in the CIA. Raise your right hand and repeat after me. For five years he was their token negro, he kept his cool and let himself be used and in return they taught him how to spy, how to fight and how to kill. For five years he was The Spook Who Sat by the Door and then he tuned the American dream into a nightmare. This is not about hate white folks, it is about love and freedom enough to die or kill for if necessary. [End of clip] David Walker: And totally misunderstood film, again pure brilliance. Across the 110th Street is the another film I really truly love, and then there is some movies like that are just plain fun, of course I’m drawing a blank on all of them right, but like Black Caesar is a great movie or the Mac is a great movie. [Clip playing] When you’ve got nothing and you want everything, you’ve got to get to be the Mac. Being rich and black means something man, don’t you know that? The Mac, his business is pleasure. He sells the soft stuff. They don’t have to rewrite the Mac in game book baby, you know because I’m going to be the new king. Ladies and gentlemen, this is the big moment we’ve all been waiting for, the Mac of the year Goldie. [End of clip] David Walker: But I think probably because – you take a movie like Dr. Black and Mr. Hyde or Dr. Black and Mr. White because they had a couple of different titles, and it’s a pretty terrible movie and then you take a movie like Blacula…. [Clip playing] You shall be a black prince, I curse you with my name, you shall be Blacula. Blacula, the black avenger rising from his tomb to fill the night with horror. Blacula, Dracula’s soul brother, deadlier even than he. Blacula, he thirsts for your blood, he hungers for your soul; more horrifying than Dracula. [End of clip] David Walker: And Blacula is an interesting film. I recorded – I was asked to record the audio commentary for the Blu-ray release a year or two back, and it was interesting because the film is full of all sorts of problems, not the least of which is just not the best screenplay, not the best story, but what was really interesting was I was watching it – the day we recorded the audio commentary was the day that Officer Darren Wilson was acquitted in the killing of Mike Brown. It was literally the day after that it happened and the climax of Blacula not to spoil it for anyone but since the movie came out in 1972, hey, you’re behind the time, the climax of Blacula is the LAPD coming after Blacula and his bride, who – his bride has done nothing and he really hasn't done that much in terms of bad stuff, he’s not exactly the most evil vampires, he’s kind of benign by comparison others screen vampires, but the police gunned down his unarmed girlfriend, and he goes berserk and killing all these cops, and it really was like very clear to me especially on this particular day that what I was watching was this 1970 to 1971, it was a revenge fantasy and it was a revenge fantasy that was coming just a few years after essentially the [indiscernible] [00:39:53] riots, and the Philly Riots and the New York Riots and all of these things – this very turmoil filled time of the 1960s and going into 1970s and a lot of what we saw in these films was a manifestation in one form or another of – the black fantasy for the need for justice the need for revenge right. And it's like you compare that to today and it's the things that were speeding into all of that rage and the angst and the turmoil that finds the black existence in America in the early 1970s we’re still dealing with it today. We’re still dealing with – when was the last time the police gunned down an unarmed black person in America, let’s see 5-4-3-2-1, it probably happened just now, that’s how regularly it’s happening, over a thousand last year and what those films did back then was provide us with this sort of release that pop-culture is supposed to give us. The problem is the society never reached a point where we actually got a release from it, we’re still facing the police brutality, we’re still facing the inequities, the disparities, the poverty, and the existence of the American ghetto that existed in the 1970s still exists. The only difference now is that it is been moved, gentrification is moved the ghettos from University of America to what used to be the suburbs, evolving displays have happened in every city in the country as I’ve been all over this country in the last four or five years traveling now – the work that I do with the writing and I constantly see it, I constantly see these former black communities that have been transformed, it doesn’t matter if it’s Harlem in New York City or Oakland in California or wherever, it’s happening all the time. And so, what’s amazing to me is those films spoke to a reality and they were – in response to a reality that still exists, and that’s more disturbing to me than any of the stereotypes that were in those films. Beth Accomando: Well, you brought up the notion of revenge, how do you see Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained because that was again a revenge fantasy kind of film although Jamie Foxx's character is much more isolated in terms of there's not as many black characters surrounding him, but how do you place that – is that…? David Walker: Well, it’s interesting because I actually really like Django Unchained, I know some people who didn't, but here's the thing and I've never met Tarantino but I’d sit down and I would say this to his face, that movie is less of a revenge fantasy and more of an apology. That movie is Quentin Tarantino’s idea of revenge but his idea of revenge is actually an apology, because and again not to spoil it for anyone who haven’t seen the movie, but Leonardo DiCaprio character Calvin Candie – in order for that to be a revenge movie, Jamie Foxx would have had to kill the true villain and he didn’t, it was… Beth Accomando: Christoph Waltz. David Walker: Yep, Christoph Waltz, that’s who did the killing. And what you saw in that – and I remember watching it too, the first time I saw it thinking wait a minute, this is not what this is about, this is about – in a lot of ways it’s the ultimate white liberal apology for all of the wrongs that have ever happened to black folks, it’s something like that and I love the movie, but it really I get it, I get there’s that scene right before King Schultz kills Calvin Candie where you see that look on his face and I was like oh, see this is what Tarantino wants white people to feel, he wants them to go wow, we’ve been so bad, we have to clean up our own mess. So in that regard, the movie doesn't quite deliver what a lot of people seem to think it delivers, there is a certain amount of revenge that Django gets, but he gets it on all the secondary characters, he doesn't get it on the true villain which – is that a flaw? I don't necessarily note the flaw within the story, I still like the movie, I just re-watched it like the day before Hatefully Eight came out and I was like wow, I still really like this, but it’s still there, it’s still there's no escaping the fact that that the true act of revenge that drives that have to drive that movie, the character that represents the ultimate of what white supremacy and white entitlement is about which was Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, the hero of our movie doesn't actually kill that character. Beth Accomando: Well, for me I remember one of the things that impressed me and this was because the lead was also female is Pam Grier, so I wanted to talk a little bit about Pam Grier, so let's play a trailer from one of her films, let’s go with Coffee. [Clip playing] They call her Coffee, because if you jive her, she'll cream you. This is the end of your rotten life. Coffee, the badass one chick hit squad that ever hit town. All your friends are dead, well I killed them all. Coffee, she’s got a body men would die for, and lately a lot of them have. Coffee is black; Coffee is hot, and sometimes as sweet as sugar. I know what you want, and you’re going to get it. Coffee, always where the action is, a mean kind of super chick who don’t take nothing off on nobody. You want me to crawl, you want to spit on me and make me crawl? See Coffee, rated R, under 17 not admitted without a parent. Look out Harlem, here comes Coffee, the godmother of ‘em all. [End of clip] Beth Accomando: Alright, Pam Grier was great, she was this powerful female character who could kick your ass and could make in her on own, what kind of an impact did she have on not just Black Exploitation but she created this very strong image. David Walker: She did. She created this sort of kickass woman, she played a – vigilante character, two films back to back, Coffee and the unofficial sequel to Coffee was the Foxy Brown which is originally supposed to be Coffee part two, not sure why they didn't do that way. Then, she played a detective in “Sheba, Baby”, a photojournalist in Friday Foster, it’s really interesting because I can see – if you were to place yourself within the – contextualize yourself within the era in which those movies are made. They all came out between ‘73 and like ’76, there's this empowerment aspect and there is this woman who is taking control of her destiny and she's killing her oppressors and all these amazing things, but at the same time they're very much male fantasy films, it's like how many times this Pam Grier get naked in one of her movies. I’m pretty sure there is like one movie where she's raped like that’s part of the story, another one where she is like strung out on heroin and that’s part of the story, and so within her empowerment there's also this really twisted sense of victimization this – and it’s not even twisted sense of victimization, just playing victimization that I think plays into a certain fantasy, this male fantasy of what a strong woman should be or what a sexy woman should be and you saw that in a lot of other exploitation films that weren’t necessarily Blaxploitation movies – like Gator Bait with Claudia Jennings. It always just like this formulated thing of like well it is a sexy woman and she's really strong, but we’re going to have to show her naked and at some point she’s going to have to be sexually assaulted, because that's got to be the thing that drives her and if it’s not her being sexually assaulted it’s because her man was killed or – it’s almost like there's this a set of rules, like there’s three or four rules which is in order for woman to be kickass hero, she has to endure one or more of these things. Beth Accomando: And suffering has to be involved yes. David Walker: Yeah, there has to be some sort of suffering and in fact all heroes go through some sort of suffering, they go through some sort of loss that usually – especially if it’s a revenge, but whenever your lead character is a woman it's almost like the rules are more steadfast and… Beth Accomando: And maybe narrow is the – like the rules are more narrow for them. David Walker: A very narrow spectrum. We’re talking about films from the 1970s, and so I like to tell people I am a firm believer that you can't – we can't look at a movie like Foxy Brown, a 100% – 2016 lens. We have to look at the film in some capacity, some context of what was going on in the time, what else is happening in the film, how women were being treated in a much larger sense or was the conversations that were going on and not simply go oh my God, this is horribly problematic film by my 2016’s sensibilities, because my 2016 sensibilities are still clouded by the fact that I'm old, it’s like there's still something like when people talk about being offended by them, I’m like oh, what are you talking about, that’s not offensive, that is the way things are and then you realize oh, wait a minute, the way things are can be expensive, it can be problematic, it’s just – I've been conditioned to accept it as being okay, and that’s when you begin to – that’s when the enlightenment begins, but again one of the problems I have with modern film criticism is like you have to understand what's going – what was going on back then. If there’s a movie that’s made in say 1967, that has characters that are gay right, what was it like to be queer man in 1967 America. There's going to be a lot of homophobia involved, there’s going to be a lot of oppression, there is going to be a lot of suppression, there is going to be hiding who you are and if you watch a movie from that, you’re a – and that stuff is in there and it bothers you, yeah, of course, it’s going to bother you especially now and as things have changed, but this is also reflective of how things were and we have to examine that. D.W. Griffith’s film Birth of a Nation is the most appalling film, one of the most appalling films I’ve ever seen, but it's reflective of how much of America thought things were, how they thought history was, how they thought black people were, how they thought the Ku Klux Klan actually helped save the South in the wake of the Civil War, and it’s personally offensive is that is and even culturally offensive as it is we can't erase it and more should we, because if we erase it then we run the mistake of it happening again, of us finding this this sort of ideology acceptable. Beth Accomando: Well, I think in the case of Pam Grier, I was born in 1960s, so in the ‘70s when I was watching those Pam Grier films, I was probably like about 13 or junior high or high school and although looking back on them now, I find certain elements of them problematic, the thing that lingers though is what a strong image she created despite those things and like that’s the thing that I remember from them, and also you just weren't seen characters like that even with some of the cliché that she had to deal with, you still weren't seeing that many women be able to instead of having some man rescue her that she was going to get the gun and get her revenge and put things right. David Walker: And here’s the sad thing we’re still not seeing it. The thing is just like for all the problematic things that we could pick apart about Coffee or Foxy Brown or any of these other movies and there is certainly a list, and there’s some people that I would tell them, yeah, don’t watch this movie, it ain’t going to work for you, right. But in 2015, how many movies did we see where the lead hero, the lead protagonist of the film was a kickass woman other than Star Wars, and that was to a large extent an ensemble cast just like Batman vs. Superman, Wonder Woman is going to be a part of a [indiscernible] [00:54:18] characters. We’re not seeing what is comparable to Foxy Brown or Coffee right now in film, and even if we removed all the problematic aspects, we’re not seeing it. Beth Accomando: Who are some of the other stars that stood out for you? David Walker: I am a big fan of like a lot of supporting actors. There is a guy Thomas Rasulala, who was for the most part was a supporting actor, but he is a lead in the couple movies, and Jim Kelly will always be personal favorite of mine even though in terms of his acting range she was somewhat limited. [Clip playing] You first saw him Enter the Dragon, now see him as he’s never been seen before, Jim Kelly is Black Belt Jones. See him train his own army of girl high jumpers, to help penetrate the hideaway of one of the mob’s biggest bosses. See him retrieve 25 grand from the mob’s own boss, guarded by the toughest soldier in the underworld. [End of clip] David Walker: like Paul Winfield, who is always thought of him being really serious was in a movie called Gordon’s War, Gordon’s War is one of my personal favorite. Yaphet Kotto did some great stuff, one of those being Across 110th Street and he was the villain in Truck Turner and Truck Turner with Isaac Hayes is like absolutely brilliant to me. To me, Truck Turner is everything that's great about an exploitation movie, just offensive enough and it’s just politically incorrect enough and there's just enough action and sex and violence and it was just like – I watch it and it's like I’m a cat getting its tummy rubbed, I’m just purring sort of like – ah, this is exploitation perfection with Truck Turner. There is the key thing an actor like Ron O'Neil in Super Fly giving – working probably be one of the best performances of his life and at the same time you kind of realize I think this guy was probably capable of a lot more than this, and so I see it as a lot of missed opportunities till I see that like Calvin Lockhart in a movie like Melinda, yeah, it was kind of a missed opp – everyone talks about Idris Elba being the new James Bond and I'm like Calvin Lockhart said the new James Bond and 73 they got there. Roger Moore for live and let die they should I'm Calvin Lockhart should have been the new James Bond in ’73 – instead of getting Roger Moore for Live and Let Die, they should have gotten Calvin Lockhart, he could have been the first black James Bond. And so, I feel a lot of that and that's sort of where I moved onto in terms of watching these movies, I’ve seen so many of them, but now I look at them and I sort of think about well, what would've happened if the movies did die off and some of these actors were allowed to grow and flourish, because you look at an actor like Pacino – Al Pacino who got – really the Godfather movies were his big break, he’d done a few things before that, but now look at where Al Pacino went throughout the ‘70s and the ‘80s even where he is now, Robert DeNiro, that's another one, Harvey Keitel, that's another one, and of course – keep in mind we’re talking about men because women, we know all the problems that happen with women's careers, but in terms of leading male actors, white actors, you look at where their careers went and then you look at the their black counterparts like they’re all on the where are they now list. You never saw anybody get to either have a brilliant career or to have some sort of amazing comeback; it has never happened for anybody. Beth Accomando: Well, there were also some directors that I really wish had gone on to do more stuff. One of my favorite films is Cotton Comes to Harlem and that was directed by an actor Ossie Davis who is very well respected as an actor, but only made a few films but I really enjoyed that one. David Walker: Yeah. He also directed Gordon's War which is I mentioned earlier Paul Winfield is in that and to me that's like one of those sort of underrated classics. It’s also something that’s like in terms of exploitation films it got it all, it's like grim and dirty and it just looks like – it’s ‘s as disgusting as New York City was in 1973, and I just love that movie. It’s interesting because Ossie Davis did another movie called Countdown at Kusini which was filmed largely in Africa and it was about revolution in an unnamed African nation and it's never been released on home video, I think the only existing print is at UCLA film archives, which is where I saw it, there you see his true limitations of a director. It was such a low-budget film and it was so disappointing and you’re like oh, he knows how to get the performances out of actors but he haven't quite figured out how to make a movie with no money, and again I love Cotton Comes to Harlem, I love Gordon's War and before that he’d done Purlie Victorious, which was a really interesting take on a play, I think he may have written as well – just as it is those actors and actresses, there is directors, it’s like whatever happened to him – like none of them really went on to do much of anything after the ‘70s. Michael Schultz being the one exception to the rule. Michael Schultz directed Car Wash and Greased Lightning and some of the later movies he directed Cooley High in ’75, arguably probably the most prolific black director in the history of American Cinema and most people are like who is he? What has he done? But in the ‘80s he went onto direct movie like The Last Dragon and Krush Groove and tons of TV shows and you name it, just a really smart interesting guy. Beth Accomando: Now, I want to talk a little bit about some of the characters that came out of this, there are films like Shaft where the Shaft character definitely crossed over I think to more mainstream audiences… [Clip playing] The mob wanted Harlem back. They got Shaft. John Shaft, a big bad black Private Eye, in the middle of a mess, dealing with Harlem’s boss, the first, [indiscernible] [01:00:57] Shaft is his name, Shaft’s his game. Some dig it, some don’t. Shaft, this year’s toughest flick. This kid is a bad mother… Shut your mouth. Talking about Shaft. And we can dig it. Introducing Richard Roundtree as Shaft, directed by Gordon Parks. Music by the hot butted soul man Isaac Hayes. Shaft, in color from MGM rated R. If you want to see Shaft, ask your mama. [End of clip] Beth Accomando: But then you have other characters like the Dolemite character who I don’t think quite, so what are some of the ones you think did crossover and some of the ones that maybe should over you’d have liked to have seen? David Walker: That’s a good one. I think the one that crossed over the most – it’s almost like these bizarre archetypes of these characters that crossed over and then you saw certain example of them in movie like I'm Gonna Git You Sucka, so the Kung Fu/Karate fighter that was sort of embodied Jim Kelly in movies like Black Belt Jones or Three the Hard Way, and then Jim Brown…. [Clip playing] Jim Brown is Black Gun. He has everything a woman needs and everything the man wants. The man wants the word from you. Black Gun. [End of clip] David Walker: So, it’s almost like the actors themselves are almost indistinguishable from the roles they played and that’s what sort of iconic. Shaft of course is a super iconic character and then Pam Grier – Foxy Brown or Coffee there sort of iconic characters, but it’s almost like people recognize the character without even necessarily knowing what it is. So they see like Pam Grier with a shotgun in a big Afro or maybe just a bra or something like that or bikini top, and it’s like oh, I know what that is, but then they don't necessarily really know what that is just as like in the ’30s and ’40s, they were actors who sort of embodied specific types of roles whether it’s Robinson Cagney or Robinson of Bogart, Fred Williamson embodied a certain type of roles versus Jim Brown. Jim Brown is like super serious, never cracks a smile, beats the hell out of everybody, Fred Williamson is like you’ve got that slide grins, smoking cigars then he beats the hell out of everybody and then he goes to bed with the woman. Jim Kelly just – hardly says a word, and he just uses his karate skills to beat everybody up. And then you have Rudy Ray Moore who did a handful of films like Dolomite and The Human Tornado. [Clip playing] Watch out Mister, here comes the twister. This is Rudy Ray Moore, yes, I am The Human Tornado. I’ve chained down thunder and then got lightning. I’m so damn strong it’s sometimes frightening. I grabbed a star travelling million miles a minute and slowed it down to the state speed limit. [End of clip] David Walker: And Rudy sort of defies explanation – I know he doesn’t defy explanation, I should rephrase that, he just requires a level of explanation that most people absolutely don't get because he is in my view the most misunderstood person from that era and because of how much he’s misunderstood he doesn’t get a level of respect that he deserves and so becomes – I'm constantly defending Rudy and I was fortunate enough to meet him, oh my God, in 20 years – I met him 20 years ago 1996 and the last time I’d seen him was probably less than a year before he died which was I think it was around 2008 or 2009 that he passed away, and Rudy Ray Moore was just such an interesting person, but he was actually I think the best way to describe is he is sort of a conduit for multiple eras of what black entertainment has been and he came from the old Chipman circuit era of the segregated phase where black comedians could not perform in front of white audiences or in clubs with white people or things like that and moved his way up and found some success on the ultimate fringes of like – wasn’t even the fringes of the mainstream, but with the fringes of the fringes of the mainstream and never given enough credit for being as smart as he was and I think that – I was interviewed recently because someone’s writing a biography about him and I think that part of the reason he’s not given credit for being as smart as he was because he was from Arkansas, Alabama or somewhere like that and he just had a way – a country way of talking. If you didn't pay close attention to him, we say he sounds too country, that was Rudy's problem, he sounded really country a lot of the times and he wasn’t, it just wasn’t like he was country and [indiscernible] [01:06:31], he just had a very southern way of expressing himself. Yeah, I always get irritated when people like oh, he had no talent or he was this or that and it’s just like it is what it is. If you watch a movie like Dolomite, you see the soundman and you see the boom mic in every single shot or not every single shot, that's an exaggeration, but you see it a lot of the shots right, and everybody talks like oh, Dolomite, that's a terrible movie, you can see the boom mic in all the shots, but nobody understand is that when the Dolomite movies were transferred to home video for the first time, they were transferred with the wrong aspect ratio, and so they were – If I remember correctly, it was four-three ratio which he didn’t crop it the way it was supposed to be cropped or you would've seen it in theaters and that's why you see the boom mic. You’re going to the boom mic in any movie that isn't transferred with the proper aspect ratio and yet that’s part of like this running joke about Blaxploitation movies are oh, you can always see the boom mic in these movies, yeah, it’s because when they transfer into home video, they didn’t transfer them properly, it’s that simple, but your average film critic or average filmgoer and I’m rude for saying this, they don't know these things, I’m not going to they’re not smart enough but they don’t understand how 35mm films are transferred to video, and so they assumed oh, this was this poor – inapt production values on the film part know, it was inapt transferring to home video, it’s amazing to me. Beth Accomando: I wanted to mention briefly another film that I liked which is kind of on the fringes of Black Exploitation and only in the sense that I think it was a little more maybe serious which was Melvin Van Peebles' Watermelon Man, which is a really interesting and odd film that hardly ever gets played. [Clip playing] What happened? If I didn’t know you myself… I’m black, I’ve become black. You ask anyone on the street, they’ll say that man, he’s black, sure he’s black. Get a hold of yourself. Yeah, I was – I am going to get a hold of myself. This could work to bout our advantages. Boss have a big sense of humor. Stop that foolish routine and listen to me a minute. Look, I don’t care what color you are, you’re an intelligent educated man and damn it, Gerbil there is a whole market out there that has never even been approached by our company because we have never had a Negro salesman. Well, you can make yourself a fortune. That Negro insurance market is virtually untapped. [End of clip] David Walker: Oh, that’s one of the greatest films of all time. That is … Beth Accomando: It just doesn’t get played very often though. David Walker: No, it’s not and it’s not talked about and it’s really interesting because when people talk about Melvin Van Peebles, they always talk about Sweet Sweetback's and how important that is and again this comes down to historical context, but people not understand it’d just be a film like most people don't get that. Watermelon Man was may be made and released before Sweet Sweetback came out. It was a studio picture that he’d done and it was based on the strength of that that he was able to raise the money to do Sweet Sweetback’s revenge or Sweet Sweetback’s Badass song, excuse me. Watermelon Man is brilliant. I think it's like one of the funniest movies I've ever seen and also really, really poignant, and there's – it’s odd because there's this tragedy to it but there's actually nothing tragic about it. It’s about a white guy who wakes up one morning and he was black and how that ruins his life, but in the end it's also about how he’s reborn and how he learns to cope with it. I find endlessly fascinating. I'm not a person who believes in doing remakes for the most part, but I would love to do a remake of that movie and I think it would be more – it could potentially be more poignant now in 2016 than it was 1971 when it first came out. Beth Accomando: And Godfrey Cambridge is magnificent. David Walker: He’s brilliant. Godfrey Cambridge is so amazing in that movie and he's in another movie, it's a smaller part, the movie from the like ’67 I think called the President's Analyst starring James Coburn where he's – he plays essentially a CIA agent. He’s not in the whole movie but he’s in a good chunk of it and he’s so brilliant in that, he’s so brilliant in Cotton Comes to Harlem, a truly amazing performer who died unfortunately pretty young, and my grandfather actually knew Godfrey Cambridge. My grandparents migrated from the South in Virginia up to New England to Connecticut and they knew Godfrey Cambridge because he lived the next town over from them in Connecticut, and my grandfather told stories about how the clan came and burn the cross on Godfrey Cambridge’s front yard to get him to leave the neighborhood that he’d moved into and I think about that – when I think about how he died young and this things that a lot of these actors and performers and not just actors and performers, but people like my grandparents went through as they tried to pave the way to make this country a better place for all of us and it's also one of the reasons why I'm slow to dismiss so many of these movies even the worst. Blackenstein was one of the worst movies you will ever going to see in your life, but at the same time, it’s part of something that’s much bigger than the pile of garbage that it is. Beth Accomando: Another film that I wanted to mention because there is going to be screening here in San Diego and I think I’d read an article of yours where you had our time fitting it exactly in the Black Exploitation is Bill Gunn’s Ganja & Hess, but we’re going to be showing that here in San Diego and I was wondering if you wanted a comment on that. David Walker: That's one of those movies – I’ve seen that movie so many times and I'm still like ah, I have no idea what this movie is really about, it is so surreal but it's also a brilliant film and beautiful film that has performances by two incredibly – three completely underrated performers, one being Duane Jones, Marlene Clark and then Bill Gunn himself, and I think that you talked about an artist being ahead of their time, Bill Gunn was so ahead of his time as a writer and a filmmaker. I think we’re just now starting to really comprehend how brilliant he was. He also wrote the screenplay to Hal Ashby’s first directorial effort. Hal Ashby of course did Harold and Maude and some of more classic from those ‘70 but the first film he directed was the Landlord with Bill Gunn wrote, which is an amazing examination of white privilege and gentrification and the impact that well-meaning yet clueless white people can have on a community of color, and Ganja & Hess is just this incredible examination of black sexuality, supernatural elements and horror and all these things that are in some ways very recognizable tropes and conventions, but given perspective that few other filmmakers have ever done, so Ganja & Hess is one of the few truly black films out there. Again, I watch it and I'm always like ah, I actually get it, it's not like it’s difficult to comprehend what’s going on. It's ain’t low growl, that's all I can say. People talk about being a vampire movie, there ain’t nothing low growl than Ganja & Hess. Beth Accomando: I’m looking forward to seeing it on the big screen, I’ve never seen it on the big screen so that’s going to be fun. David Walker: The funny thing is there is like three or four versions of that movie because it’s been cut, so it’s been cut so many times. It was released once under the tab Blood Couple and then there was another one called Black Vampire and I had probably seen all of those before I'd seen them – seen the movie uncut, and those movies make no sense, they're edited really poorly. So by the time I finally saw Ganja & Hess it was like oh, wait a minute, this is actually a work of art versus and this is an interesting story about how that movie got made is so interesting, because essentially Bill Gunn lying to the financiers the whole time – yeah, making – he was essentially telling them that he was making like Blacula, but instead he was making some what I think is a truly important piece of art. Beth Accomando: Well, as my last question I wanted to talk to you a little bit about – you talk about Black Exploitation 2.0, so do you want to tell me what that – how you define that? David Walker: It's funny. I wrote that a little over a year ago and I'm still trying to figure out exactly what it – what it entails but I do know that it’s more than just film, and it’s more than just television, it's more than just whatever you shoot on YouTube, it’s music and it’s literature and it’s comic books and it is about empowerment, it’s about regaining our humanity because black experience in America has been an exercise in dehumanization and an attempt to reassert our humanity, that dehumanization is what allowed for slavery and what allows for the continued second-class or third class treatment that black people have. So in terms of popular culture where Blaxploitation was – originally was about the sort of sense of empowerment that these films gave us, these manifestations allow revenge fantasies if you will or whatever fantasies of empowerment. And so, Blaxploitation 2.0 is definitely there's aspects of that too, it’s about this manifestation of anesthetic that gives us stories that we would like to see in which we are the heroes, in which we are not relegated to sidekicks or relegated to absolute sheer invisibility, that's first and foremost, but I think what it also means is that Blaxploitation 2.0 has to be about the audience taking responsibility for understanding the power that they have as consumers. It’s about a generation of critics and historians coming along who understand what it is that's being done, so again I go back to the early days of hip-hop and writers like Jeff Chang or Nelson George or Greg Tate, who understood what was going on and wrote about it in such a way so that – there's a reason why hip-hop has endured as long as it has and has involved in its change, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse, but there is – what we need is there's a movement, it’s primarily in comics and video games stuff like that, they call themselves Blerds or black nerds, bleaks or black geeks black it’s this black nerd movement that I find incredibly fascinating and part of what – I see all the potential that is there, but then I also see them I go to these countless websites and I see all these twitter accounts and they’re talking about the same things that – I guess we can call it mainstream or dominant culture outlets are talking about. So they’re talking about what Marvel Comics is doing, what DC Comics is doing and they’re talking about The Hunger Games, they’re talking about Harry Potter, they’re talking about all the stuff, they’re claiming they want more diversity, they’re claiming they want more representation, they’re claiming they want this that and the other, and yet they're doing the exact same things that the – that again what I would define as the dominant culture champions rallies around and they're not getting behind nearly enough independent creators that are doing things that are delivering exactly what it is they say they want, but yet it’s not – there's a whole group of black nerds out there that want Batman to be black or James Bond to be black, and the reality is that Warner Bros who owns DC is never going to have the black man as Batman, and there is very slim chance and probably none at all that a black actor will be passed as James Bond right. At the same time, there are and there’s not as many films as there could be, but there’s books out there and there's comics out there and there are – in some way there’s films out there that are delivering that, but it's not a black James Bond, it’s Tyrone Jackson, man of action, and the black nerd movement isn't necessarily breaking that stuff the way it needs to, it’s not fostering it and if Blaxploitation 2.0 is going to amount to more than what that first iteration of it was, there has to be responsibility. Vincent Canby be is the one who reviewed all those Blaxploitation film for whatever Village Voice or it’s for the New York Times and clearly he didn’t get it. He didn't get most of them and that's why they got the negative reviews that they did, the audiences still flock to it and word-of-mouth still flock to it, and we need more of that, we as black folks, and it's not just black folks, when I use the term black folks or whatever, it's really a fill in the blank, because it is anybody – it’s any group that is underrepresented and so that includes women and that include people with disabilities and that includes transgendered people, the list goes on. The only people that aren’t included in that list are white heterosexual men, okay, because they got a lock on everything. In order for Blaxploitation 2.0 to amount to something, it means that not only are there going to have to be creators, there's going to have to be critics and there’s going to have to be consumers and there's going to have to be retailers and there’s going to have to be all of it – everything that makes America what it is. We have to find a way to support that. We have to create our own – if necessary our own economy and it goes back to the most prolific time for black films in the history of the American film industry was from the 1920s the 1950s when black people weren’t allowed by and large to go to the movies with white people, and so there was an entire separate industry of black films that sustained itself for decades, and then the moment integration became the norm in Hollywood, black audiences stopped going to see the movies of filmmaker like Oscar Micheaux or Spencer Williams. They stopped going to see what at the time they call black cast films and they instead opted for what would become known as the integration films and so those films died off, the black cast films died off just like the moment black people allowed to sit at the lunch counter in the southern states, all of the black own diners went out of business. That was the price we paid for integration and key is this well we’re integrated now but we’re still – we don't have any equity and if we want to have some both the equality and some equity, we’re going to have to create it for ourselves, that’s what I keep talking about and that's when people start looking to me like oh, he’s uppity, this guy is more than just a guy who writes comic books or talks about movie. Beth Accomando: Well, it's been a real pleasure speaking with you and thanks for making the time amongst all your many projects. If people are looking for ways to find you, where can they find you and where can they get information about your books and things? David Walker: I've got a about a couple different websites that I barely maintain, the David Walker site which is all one word thedavidwalkersite.com, it’s sort of a jumping off portal that leads to everything, it’s got links to my Amazon Author Page or my IMDb page. The blog that I update with any degree of regularity whatever that means is badazzmofo.com, which is B-A-D-A-Z-Z-M-O-F-O.com. Sometimes when I’m inspired, I update it regularly and then I will go months without updating it. Since it’s Black History Month I’m updating it every day with some sort of historical lesson, but yeah it's – for the most part I'm too busy to update myself and those things, and then I'm on Twitter as David Walker 1201 which I'm always talking about what I'm doing and then posting links to everything from old funkadelic songs to report on how Michigan has been poisoned, but we don’t want to get started on that one. Beth Accomando: No, it’s a whole other show. David Walker: Yes. Beth Accomando: Well, thanks for speaking with me. David Walker: Alright. Thank you, take care. Beth Accomando: I want to remind people in San Diego that you will have a rare opportunity to see the director’s cut of Ganja & Hess on the big screen at the Museum of photographic arts on February 20th at 5 PM. It's being presented by Miguel Rodriguez and the Horrible Imaginings Film Festival. It's part of a celebration of women in horror and black history. So he will also be screening American Psycho, so remembered to mark that on your calendar and thank you for listening to another edition of the KPBS Cinema Junkie podcast and let’s go out with a trailer from one of my favorite Black Exploitation films and that’s Cotton Comes to Harlem. [Clip playing] Introducing two cops only a mother could love. Meet Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones, two of New York’s finest. Two cops who take charge when an $87,000 bale of cotton comes to Harlem. Tell me John, will you, what's the bale of cotton doing in Harlem? A bale of cotton? What would a bale of cotton be doing in Harlem? Cotton Comes to Harlem. It’s cops and robbers with a shade of difference. See any cotton around here lately? A bale of cotton, sure. Where was it now? When did you turn Japanese? Andre, come on, you know the position, come on. Damn it. Another fine mess you got us into. I got us into? Shut up and shoot. Godfrey Cambridge is Grave Digger Jones. Raymond St. Jacques is Coffin Ed Johnson. Calvin Lockhart. Well, if it ain’t King Kong and Frankenstein. What kind of talk is that soul brother? Don’t you know that black is beautiful? They put a personal touch on everything they handle. Do you want to play with that thing? I am insecure Captain. They are big, they are cool, they are beautiful. Where is that bale of cotton? There ain’t no such thing as bale of cotton in Harlem. Is that black enough for you? I finally found that bale of cotton. One thing for sure, that ain’t drug store cotton. This is genuine Mississippi cotton… Think I’m going to get me a stick and I’m going to kick cotton in the butt. Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones, two cops only a mother could love. [End of clip]
FilmStruck is showcasing eight classics of Blaxploitation Cinema so it's time to revisit the Cinema Junkie Podcast featuring David Walker, writer of the "Shaft" comic books. Walker loves the Blaxploitation films of the 1970s and says we're due for Blaxploitation 2.0.
This month, FilmStruck is highlighting Blaxploitation cinema with a collection that features films such as "Shaft," "Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song," "Cleopatra Jones," "Superfly," and "Dolemite." The films will be presented by Malcolm Mays ("Snowfall" and "Flint"), Michael Jai White ("Black Dynamite") and Scott Sanders ("Black Dynamite," "Thick as Thieves").
Mays was too young to have seen these films on their first run but discovered them through his parents who spent their youth "ingesting" those films according to their son. He said there was a tradition on Sundays of going to church and then watching an "oldie" for what he calls "Soul Cinema Sundays." Films such as "Shaft," which impressed him as being "unapologetically black" thanks to photographer turned filmmaker Gordon Parks.
Mays prefers the term Soul Cinema to Blaxploitation but loves all the film in the collection that will be available on FilmStruck for the next six months.
"I will say that the one that stuck with me the most, that's the most interesting has been 'Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song,'" said Mays. "They all affect me for different reasons. 'Shaft' because it was a studio picture that was really dope. And 'Sweetback' because it was audacious and raw and gritty. And 'Dolemite' because it was hilarious. So there are different reasons why I am in love with these films."
Mays said that blaxploitation taught cinema to "swagger" and if you want to learn where filmmakers as diverse as Spike Lee, Ryan Coogler, and Quentin Tarantino found their inspirations then you need to watch these films.
This is Black History Month and I want to pay tribute to something that I love but is too often dismissed as trash or low brow — Blaxploitation Cinema. In its heyday of the 1970s these were films made for a black audience, usually distributed by legit film studios, and at their best managed to crossover to a mainstream audience with films such as "Shaft."
These films served up African-American characters who were driving the stories and the action, and were not merely reacting to the white characters or were in supporting sidekick roles to white stars.
On the latest edition of Cinema Junkie, I speak with David Walker about stars such as Pam Grier, Jim Brown and Rudy Ray Moore, and films ranging from "Coffy" to "The Spook Who Sat by the Door," as well as oddball entries such as "The Watermelon Man" and "Ganja and Hess."