A definitive account of Blaxploitation cinema—the freewheeling, often shameless, and wildly influential genre—from a distinctive voice in film history and criticism
In 1971, two films grabbed the movie business, shook it up, and launched a genre that would help define the decade. Melvin Van Peebles’s Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, an independently produced film about a male sex worker who beats up cops and gets away, and Gordon Parks’s Shaft, a studio-financed film with a killer soundtrack, were huge hits, making millions of dollars. Sweetback upended cultural expectations by having its Black rebel win in the end, and Shaft saved MGM from bankruptcy. Not for the last time did Hollywood discover that Black people went to movies too. The Blaxploitation era was born.
Written by film critic Odie Henderson, Black Caesars and Foxy Cleopatras is a spirited history of a genre and the movies that he grew up watching, which he loves without irony (but with plenty of self-awareness and humor). Blaxploitation was a major trend, but it was never simple. The films mixed self-empowerment with exploitation, base stereotypes with essential representation that spoke to the lives and fantasies of Black viewers. The time is right for a reappraisal, understanding these films in the context of the time, and exploring their lasting influence.
“This exuberant debut from Boston Globe film critic Henderson provides commentary on and social context for 1970s Blaxploitation films . . . a thoughtful and loving ode to the genre.”
“Plenty of ink has been spilled and words have been said about the Blaxploitation era, but Black Caesars and Foxy Cleopatras is perhaps the most sweeping (and fun) exploration of the subject yet. Whether he’s discussing stone-cold classics or regrettable trash, Odie Henderson tells it like it is; he approaches these films and their creators with a palpable affection for the genre, without sacrificing his keen critical and analytical sensibilities.”
—Aisha Harris, cohost of NPR’S Pop Culture Happy Hour and author of Wannabe: Reckonings with the Pop
“A great book on a spectacular era of film history, by a spellbinding and hilarious storyteller.”
—Matt Zoller Seitz, author of The Wes Anderson Collection, Mad Men Carousel, and The Sopranos Session
“With his critical recording of Blaxploitation cinema, Odie Henderson champions the moment when Hollywood anointed Black stories as king. A delightful guide to the major heroes and lesser-known creatives who’ve influenced Black culture and cinema for decades, Henderson provides a personal, hilarious, informative, spontaneous, and brazen point of view that stands as a bible for the era.”