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Podcast Episode 60: Celebrating Blaxploitation Cinema

David Walker, writer of the ‘Shaft’ comics, explains why he loves these films from the 70s

A collage of Blaxploitation artwork that includes

Credit: American International Pictures

Above: A collage of Blaxploitation artwork that includes "Cotton Comes to Harlem," Coffy," and "Three the Hard Way."

Episode 60: Celebrating Blaxploitation Cinema

David Walker, writer of the new "Shaft" comics, explains why he loves Blaxploitation and is looking forward to Blaxploitation 2.0.

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Transcript

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.

UPDATED:

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.

ORIGINAL STORY:

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."

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