Black Exploitation in Film.

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Representation in Shaft

Introduction

This essay will look at two main points on representation, in a pre-determined ten-minute clip of Shaft, firstly cultural representation which in this case is focused on the emergence of the Blaxploitation (Black-exploitation) genre. Then the representation of women and how their gender status affects the film’s narrative, and characters and how the film portrayed both points. 1971 found the emergence of successful Afro-American film producers such as Gordon Parks (1912-2006) with Shaft (1971) and Melvin Van Peebles with his earlier release of Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971), between them ushering the start of a new film genre, Blaxploitation. With Shaft being “amongst the twenty highest grossing films of the year with retails of $6.1 million, and was accompanied by an award winning soundtrack, best selling soundtrack.” (William L & Hammond M. Contemporary American Cinema, p.188). Although African-American film producers had a lot of input in the earlier Blaxploitation genre, later production had less input and it also led to the demise of the genre by the end of the 1970s.

Cultural representation

Shaft defies previous ‘black cinema’, with black protagonist being the good guy, with a less politically originated militant black figure, like those in Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (1971). Shaft is contradiction in its cultural representation as it debunks earlier ‘Black cinema’ film by not having the lead protagonist as militant, angry individual out to get the white man as was a popular depiction of previous black characters. Instead “The hero may well be a powerful masculine presence, however, the image of militant Black man has gone.” (Hayward S (2006) Cinema Studies: The Key Concepts, p.48). With the emergence of such movements as the Black Panthers in the 1960s it was hard not to draw from these powerful men in black history with their fierce ideologies and pride. Though the character Shaft has a reputation that is later ‘exploited’ in later films of the genre, it does not have the excess that often leads to it giving a spoofed story.

Drawing from racial stereotypes.

The core contradiction is that the film still holds to heavy racial stereotypes, for instance the use of the ‘Italian’ mobster or the seedy, over-weight white detective and Shaft himself being overly confident harking back to the slightly left-wing attitudes of the Panthers. But rather carries it off with the nonchalant attitude of ‘sticking it to the man’ by being non-conformist in his attitude to life and is more of a maverick to avoid falling into the political hole. With the fact that he is an independent self-styled private investigator (PI), showing that he is separate from working from the white man, in this case the police force and the mafia, to get what he needs. In this and unlike previous depictions of black characters, he is working with the white man, instead of being in conflict with them.

Idioms and supremacy.

Despite working alongside both, again the racial factor manifests itself with antagonising phrases between Shaft and the mafia member in the café/restaurant, which is instigated by the mafia member. Shaft’s riposte is similarly insulting but delivered in a nonchalant manner in such a way as to roil the mafia member. Though this goes back and forth the situation is tempered from getting out of hand by their location and the presence of the waitress serving them. The switch in power between the two men remains in flux as it goes back and forth with cultural idioms being used as casual obscenities and the inflection from the Mafioso that he is superior to Shaft by starting the conversation by calling Shaft ‘nigga’. It is Shafts lack of response to his derogatory manner that deflates the Mafioso.

Female Representation

Submissive white woman?

With the introduction of the waitress and her negligent behaviour, it is the first instance in the predetermined...
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