Capitalism, Gender and Blaxploitation

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“The cinematic deceit transmuted liberation into vengeance, the pursuit of a social justice which embraced race, class, and gender into Black racism, and the politics of armed struggle into systematic assassination. The screen impostors occupied a manichaean world in which whites were evil, corrupt and decadent; where Black accomplices to white venality were tainted with a similarly debased nature; and the central Black protagonists were preoccupied with vigilantism. Capitalism, signified at most by skyscraper exteriors, almost entirely disappeared, constituting a normalising space whose interstices lent marginal terrain for the practices of the drug trade and prostitution. The real world of the market, unseen and unremarked upon, hovered above the ghetto streets, the police station, the strip club and the dealer’s locales (storefront, suburban home, high rise apartment, etc.). The world in front of the camera was some sort of twisted, perverted mirror of the normal, the reasoned, the ordered, the safe and unremarkable American landscape. The denizens dwelling in the nether world were as different from real America as gargoyles are from pigeons. The object was to exhibit these bizarre and semi-mythic life-forms while assuring the screen audience that they inhabited a space some safe distance away.”

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“At the time of Blaxploitation films, it was a commonplace that actual Black urban  communities in all parts of the country were heavily patrolled and policed by agents deployed by federal, state, county, local, and private institutions. The external imposition of order was manifested through electronic surveillance, informants, undercover operatives, special police intelligence units, interventions of mailed correspondence, photo surveillance, foot- and automobile-patrols, frequently centralised by inter-agency cooperation. From within the community, moral and civil order were maintained by church networks and the routines of daily labour, community associations, mainstream and radical political organisations, neighbourhood watch groups and a canopy of adult and youth activities. Why then would Hollywood and independent film makers construct this densely jungled urban landscape inhabited principally by predators? How might the manufacturers of such fantastically unrealistic portrayal expect that their creation would achieve the ring of authenticity?

In the Bad Black Woman genre, the body of the Black female anoints this unreality as authentic. On the one hand, the undeniably erotic objectivity of the Black female body inscribes the mark of truth onto the social fantasy. And the narrative, filled with competing claimants for that body – lovers, rapists, and the merely obsessed (in Foxy, the judge is characterised by his taste for ’your kind’) – transports the credibility of their desires into an authentication of the world in which these denizens are imagined to exist. Unlike her white female counter-part of the jungle and plantation films, it is not the Black female who is an ambiguous figure negotiating the chasm between the white and the Black worlds. It is the chasm which is ambiguous: male desire and the resulting calumny of male domination erases the distinctions between white society and Black society. In the total absence in the genre of any allusion to actual international capitalism, a predatory fratriarchy displaces modes of production as the source of evil. Material greed, political tyranny and the domination by capital of labour are merely vacuous surrogates for male desire. … The false, Hobbesian depiction of the Black community, the procrustean social consciousness of its protagonists, the bluntly pathogenic and unrelievedly pure malevolence of its villains, the outrages perpetrated on the flesh of friend and foe alike, are all spun into credible artifices by the single truth of the Black woman’s body.

– Cedric J. Robinson, ‘Blaxploitation and the misrepresentation of liberation’, Race & Class 40 (1) (1998).

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