‘Can You Dig It?’ charts the rise and fall of ‘Black Action Films’ from 1970-75. As well as featuring a double-CD collection of the stunning music from these films, ‘Can You Dig It?’ comes with a 100-page booklet, mini-film poster cards and stickers.
The Black Action Films of the early 1970s gave Hollywood its first African-American cinema – actors, directors, cameramen, editors and writers. These films discussed aspects of the African-American experience in the form of entertainment. Storylines interwove post-civil rights revolution with action stories, many involving pimps, prostitutes, drug dealers or private detectives.
The films also featured the finest funk and soul black music of the time as stars such as James Brown, Curtis Mayfield, Willie Hutch and Roy Ayers produced some of their finest work, with film budgets allowing for the addition of huge orchestral arrangements by jazz legends such as Quincy Jones, Johnny Pate and JJ Johnson.
In the early 1970s, Black Action Films exploded into the cinema with three extremely successful films – ‘Shaft’, ‘Super Fly’ and ‘Sweet Sweetback’s Badasssss Song’. The most profound statement of these films was their actual existence – black actors and black directors entering the previously closed Hollywood film industry.
Black Action Films were a representation of politically everything that had gone before and stylistically of everything that was current. Civil rights, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Black Power, Black Panthers, Vietnam sit alongside the criminal worlds of policemen, private investigators, bail bondsmen and the criminals, drug dealers, pimps and hustlers that they parole.
Black American culture is reflected in the scorching soundtracks, some seriously funky clothes and the language of the street. Rarely does ten minutes pass when someone will expound ‘Right on!’, ‘Can you dig it?’, ‘Stay loose’ or the eponymous ‘Is it Black enough for you?’.
The term ‘Blaxploitation’, was created by a writer for Vogue magazine, a confused word implying exploitation of African-Americans. ‘Exploitation of black’, or ‘black exploitation films’? Black characters in these films are nearly always strong, the bad guys are usually white bad guys, and the resolution of the narrative in most of the films is nearly always morally correct (although sometimes complex) and as Gordon Parks noted at the time, ‘it is ridiculous to imply that blacks don’t know the difference between truth and fantasy and therefore will be influenced in an unhealthy way’.
In 1973 that the first black female lead roles were created. Pam Grier starred in ‘Coffy’ and the follow up ‘Foxy Brown’, and Tamara Dobson in ‘Cleopatra Jones’, all three films featuring incredibly strong female lead characters created specifically for these two black American actresses.
For the next few years, Black Action Film mutated across genres, weaving its way through black cinema versions of horror (‘Blacula’), martial arts (‘Black Belt Jones’), westerns (‘Soul of Nigger Charley’) and any permutation thereof.
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