Ignored Obscured Restored
In the early ‘70s, a film genre called Blaxploitation emerged. Wikipedia explains:
The films produced in the 1970s were generally considered a form of exploitation because non-black producers, writers, and directors sought to tell Black stories, and to sell these potentially inauthentic stories to Black audiences. The films, while popular, suffered backlash for disproportionate numbers of stereotypical film characters showing bad or questionable motives, including most roles as criminals resisting arrest.
That’s not the whole story. There was indeed some backlash from those that objected to the criminal stereotypes of many African Americans in the films. In fact, BANG (Blacks Against Narcotic Genocide) picketed theaters that were screening the film Superfly, even though it was the first Blaxploitation film to be fully financed by black producers.
But many moviegoers from the African American community welcomed seeing black actors in roles that portrayed strong, assertive (male and female) characters like Shaft (Richard Roundtree) and Foxy Brown (Pam Grier).
But one thing that most of the Blaxploitation films had was excellent soundtracks!
The most popular was the Isaac Hayes “Theme from Shaft.”
“Theme from Shaft” reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 at the end of 1971. The next year the song took home the Oscar for Best Original Score – making Hayes the first African American to win the award.
Listeners are immediately drawn in by the drum intro of sixteenth notes played on the hi-hat, followed by that funky wah-wah guitar. And who could forget the line:
You see this cat Shaft is a bad mother (Shut your mouth)
Curtis Mayfield, no stranger to political message songs, put together a masterpiece for the soundtrack to Superfly in 1972. The best song on the album is “Pusherman.”
“Pusherman” is interesting because the lyrics could be construed as glorifying the role of inner-city drug dealers. But knowing Mayfield and his politics, he was more likely attempting to show how being a pusher may often be the only way out of poverty for blacks, who wanted to provide for their families, when living in the ghetto in the ‘70s.
I’m your mama, I’m your daddy
I’m that ni**er, in the alley
I’m your doctor when in need
Want some coke? Have some weed
The “Godfather of Soul” wouldn’t miss out on a chance to take part in this trend. He contributed a great work – the soundtrack to Black Caesar (1973). My choice from this soundtrack is the melodramatic ballad “Mama”s Dead.”
In the movie, this song plays as lead character Tommy Gibbs mourns the death of his mother. Brown’s heartfelt vocal nails the emotional heft of the scene.
Mama’s dead, never again would she hold my hand
Never again to hear her call my name
But now she’s gone, her troubles are over, the pain is gone
I wish, I had made her proud to call me son
All of these soundtracks (and many others) deserve to be heard all the way through. Give them a try!
Enjoy… until next week.