The Chicago Journal

Horror and blaxploitation, a divisive chapter in the genre

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Blaxploitation — In the last article, we examined the first forms of Black horror, which gave rise to blaxploitation, a cinema subgenre with a complicated history in popular culture. Sweet Sweetback’s Baadassss Song is one of the early examples of blaxploitation, which quickly moved into the horror genre with films like Blacula.

In addition to studying blaxploitation, Blacula altered how vampires, particularly Dracula, were represented. Bela Lugosi influenced later vampire portrayals, while William Marshall elevated vampire lords to innovative levels.

The majority of actors who performed the character in Bela Lugosi’s style did it in an absurdly rigid manner, but Marshall established himself with Blacula. He gave a sophisticated, powerful, and eloquent impression of African-Americans. Blacula’s commercial success opened the door for blaxploitation in movies like Blackenstein, Abby, Sugar Hill, and Bones.

Other blaxploitation films

The popularity of Blacula inspired a wave of new Black horror movies, enabling creators to offer moviegoers something distinctive while dispelling stereotypes about African Americans. Others were completely original ideas, while some were remakes of well-known horror movies using African American actors.

For instance, Abby and Sugar Hill offered a novel viewpoint on how women were interested in Black horror. 

Abby monitored The Exorcist’s production to determine how it affected the movie’s promotion. The movie had to be pulled from cinemas by American International Pictures at the request of Warner Bros. because of similarities to the Linda Blair-starring picture. Nevertheless, it continues to be well-known since it portrayed women as emancipated and gave them the ability to choose their own sexual orientation. Abby also represented the feminine defiance of the obligatory obligations of the religious bride. 

On the other side, Sugar Hill combined a vengeance plot with a classic voodoo idea. Diana “Sugar” Hill’s rise to popularity was sparked by the “vengeful woman” storyline. The perception of African American women as strong in the horror and entertainment industries was revolutionized by her actions.

More than just a picture

Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde, another blaxploitation-era Black horror movie, raised issues about the history of slavery and made references to the Tuskegee syphilis experiments. To better comprehend the effects of the illness, nearly 400 African American males with syphilis were researched for five decades. The study’s goal was kept a secret from the guys.

Additionally, the movie addressed issues of racism, class, and the Black Power Movement, just like many other blaxploitation movies. Racist movies have always compared African Americans to monkeys (and do so now on social media). Dr. Black and Mr. Hyde made an effort to discuss their views on the development of slavery. The narrative’s course was changed when the Hyde creature emerged as an ape-like creature resembling the Frankenstein monster.

On the other side, director William Crain depicted white people as the source of all evil in African-American society. His attempt to create a Frankenstein monster out of Hyde made the character sympathetic as a lonely guy in an unusual circumstance. Crain adapted the concept from Elizabeth Young’s best-selling book Black Frankenstein: The Making of an American Metaphor. While falling from a tall building, he resembles the original King Kong.

Another subject in Crain’s blaxploitation movie is class criticism, as Bernie Casey’s Dr. Henry Pride is shown as a wealthy Black physician who overcomes the black-white gap. He is viewed as giving up and blending into white culture. There are times when he returns to places from his past to demonstrate his Blackness after overcoming a barrier and stepping into the white professional class, as some have noted that the character’s work to find effective therapy for cirrhosis of the liver is an illustration for his resolve to change the “black urban underclass.”

Both professionals and individuals have commented on how Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde flips the roles of various hues in conventional movies. Prostitutes and well-dressed pimps are included in the film, which also redefines these characters by demonstrating how white people oppress Black people. Prider’s white automobile, for instance, exemplifies the harmful and demeaning attitude of wealthy whites toward Black people. Another parallel in the movie is Mr. Hyde, a white monster who goes on a killing rampage against African-Americans.

Bleeding into modern Black horror

Blaxploitation is still a contentious cinema subgenre, yet its influence on modern horror cannot be overstated. For many years, blaxploitation elements were virtually always present in films that featured a Black neighborhood in a city.

The effect of Snoop Dogg’s appearance in the 2001 movie Bones, in which he also stars, would be comparable to that of Blaxploitation. Numerous references to archetypes from the early 20th century may be found in the 1995 anthology movie Tales from the Hood. Regardless of one’s opinions, blaxploitation has a significant effect.

Blaxploitation, like other cinema themes and subgenres, ultimately went out of style, giving way to a new fad that would go down in the annals of Black horror.