Women’s News: The Modern Black Woman


Common misrepresentations of women are said to be that they are weak and inferior to men in which American society continuously place women in these roles within domestic, political, economic, and social settings. The public rarely pays tribute to the feminine heroine because she is unrecognized and unseen in American culture. However, during the 1960s to 1970s, African-American female representation has changed the way we define femininity and the modern woman through the genre known as Blaxploitation. Blaxploitation was a genre created for the black and urban audiences which highlighted black unity and empowerment. With this, the “ideal” black woman has changed. Through the workings of Edward Guerrero, Eithne Quinn, and Yvonne Sims, I am going to explain the key origins and definitions of Blaxploitation in which Guerrero takes a socioeconomic standpoint and Quinn and Sims value a more social view. With Quinn’s and Sims’s point-of-views, I will argue that Blaxploitation have altered the ideas of African-American female representation in which characters like Foxy Brown have assumed masculine traits, thus, making her a stronger female. Lastly, I will discuss what Guerrero is missing in relation to the black female representation compared the real world.
According to Edward Guerrero, the origins of Blaxploitation occurred during the Civil Rights Movement as a film strategy for the deteriorating film industry. During 1960, profits from the box office decreased from $60 million to $15 million; however, in 1967, one-third of the black population added to the box office gross and Hollywood used this fact towards making a profit .The large African-American population within the movie industry was due to their desire to spectate black culture and humanity throughout the rise of the Civil Rights Movement . Hollywood responded to the sudden population increase with a strategy utilizing “traditional and stereotypical models of representation” of the black culture in movies to attract suburban and urban spectators alike . Thus, the Blaxploitation genre was made. The idea that the white-Hollywood industry help contribute to the rise of Blaxploitation is ironic and distorted because of the Civil Rights Movement. These movies were based on racial stereotypes that white film makers for their own benefit in which there is no sense of equality when one culture is placed on a pedestal through racial and exaggerated beliefs of another. Guerrero argues that the rise Blaxploitation was used only for socioeconomic reasons.
Although the basis of Blaxploitation was for economic benefits for Hollywood, Guerrero additionally believes that genre was a ploy that mocked political ideologies that were portrayed during the Civil Rights Movement. Through the movement, integrationists and separatists had opposing beliefs but Blaxploitation was a response to the decline of Black Nationalism . During the Movement, many Blacks supported Black Power as a result to political frustration in which they found class and race solidarity through its masculine traits of militancy and aggressiveness . Once the movement dissolved, Blaxploitation movies such as Cotton Comes to Harlem (1969) and Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971) had opened the realm of Blaxpoitation due to its satirical nature of the movements . Not only did Blaxploitation film include racialized stereotypes black culture, they also exaggerate the nature of the Black Power movement with extreme violence. The genre have transformed some of African-Americans’ political annoyance into the enjoyments of their viewing pleasures. Blaxploitation films portray ideas of Black Power and liberation through sarcasm and exaggerations of the movement itself.
In response to Guerrero, Eithne Quinn and Yvonne Sims takes a more social and cultural context towards Blaxploitation. Quinn argues that Blaxploitation was a product of its sociopolitical context of the post-Civil Rights Movement. The film Super Fly (1972) diverted its focus on the “amelioration of civil rights politics and radical nationalism” and emphasized the subcultural of wealthy underground and black youth. Super Fly (1972) was a direct representation of “what is happening right on the streets” relating to the War on Drugs and its effects on between the upper and lower African-American class . As a product of selling cocaine, the protagonist, Priest, creates a lavish and successful lifestyle for himself yet he has this “individualist desire for freedom” away from the drug business . Blaxploitation, to Quinn, highlighted the individual in which individualism expurgated civil rights policies and Black Power. Rather than being integrated with his culture and community, Priest’s interests are only with himself. Blaxploitation climaxed after the Civil Rights Movement because films like Super Fly (1972) rebuked traditional awareness of integration and concentrated on black individuals in their environment.
Moreover, the gendered characteristics of Priest from Super Fly (1972) and other Blaxploitation films have altered the representation of black females. The film industry subverts the representation of people in which Blaxploitation gave society the masculine female . Because Quinn states that Blaxploitation films are individualist, the focus of the lead protagonists should be attractive to the audience in which many traits of the black male leads are seen to be ultraviolent and hypersexual . These traits are later translated into the dominate characters that Pam Grier plays in Coffy (1973) and Foxy Brown (1974). Seen throughout Foxy Brown (1974), Grier’s character, Brown, becomes involved with a prostitution ring to violently avenge her deceased lover and brother. Priest and Brown assume the same traits that are commonly associated with masculine characters since both exude power, strength and eroticism. Gender is neutral in Blaxploitation because both the female and male roles are combined.
Like Quinn, Yvonne Sims also argues that Blaxploitation revolved around the social environment of African-American culture. The recognition of black women within the Blaxploitation genre is significant because it proved that there is the notion of the “strong black woman” . Prior to Blaxploitaion, two black females were dominant within Hollywood: the Mammy and the Sapphire. The mammy portrayed an image of a domesticated African-American woman struggling with her white employers . Additionally, the sapphire image contradicts the mammy with a manipulating and deviant behavior of black womenin with a necessity to possess a man . These frequently used stereotypes of black women highlights their oppression within society in comparison to whites and men. It shows that African-American women are not meant to be strong and are dependent of others. Although this notion of black women is frequent, society recognizes this belief as normal and becomes applicable for all women. Women in Blaxploitation become the antithesis of the “Mammy” and “Sapphire” stereotypes by portraying the “masculine female” as she is strong, independent and knows her own sexual prowess.
Female characters within Blaxploitation film have subverted the ideas of the common and “real-life” black women. According to Sims, the action heroine in Blaxploitation interpreted as the “everyday woman” in society . The revival of strong black women were through society’s need of wanting to see them as “vigilantes” . For example, Pam Grier’s heroic character, Foxy Brown was a licentious yet direct representation of Angela Davis, a female African-American revolutionary and intellectual . In the film Foxy Brown (1974), Brown uses her body as a source of power as she enters the prostitution ring in order to stop corrupting drug lords. Compared to the white drug lords, her black body is exposed and seen within two contradictory forms: an object of desire and rape to white men. Blaxploitation gives audiences the recognition of female black bodies are extravagant and carnal. Sexual bodies, thus, can be used as a source of power and femininity, as seen in the role of Foxy Brown. This adaptation towards a liberated and sexual heroine became a staple in popular culture but a fantasy within the black community. However, this image is not representative of black women and Foxy Brown epitomizes the ideal female and social role.
Although Guerrero indicates some form of gender and the representation of black female bodies within Blaxploitation, he does truly represent a sociocultural standpoint. He argues that black women are influenced by strict gender limits that the industry develops for them, i.e. the black action-fantasy heroine . Hollywood created the black heroine role only to conform to the shifts in black cultural style and expression . The introduction to characters like Coffy and Foxy Brown were necessary for the survival of the Hollywood industry during the 1970’s. The black heroine was able to attract audiences because of her sexual exuberance and the spectators’ voyeuristic pleasure towards women’s bodies. Rather addressing gender and the heroine’s masculine features, Guerrero shows that Hollywood simply wants to make a profit. Guerrero fails to recognize the female empowerment of Blaxploitation and is only limited to his socioeconomic argument.
Although authors like Guerrero, Quinn, and Sims have different observations of their origins and definitions of Blaxploitation, they can all agree the notion of how it was popular among African-American audiences. Guerrero argues that Blaxploitation was a mockery of Black Nationalism and was created for the sole-purpose of profit of Hollywood. Also, Quinn believes that Blaxploitation was created after the Civil Rights movement to highlight individualism and needs of the powerful black male in which these traits portrays the male as violent and sexual; and lastly, Sims adheres to the idea that female characters later embodied these traits to illustrate the important of women in film. Unlike Quinn and Sims, Guerrero does not see the important of the gender dynamics of the black heroine within Blaxploitation.

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