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Film Genres - Blaxploitation:, Comedy:, Gangster Films:, Drama:, Horror:, Romance:, Westerns:

black include urban

FILM GENRES. A genre is a recognizable type of movie with a ready made narrative form that is characterized by specific character types and pre established conventions, such as comedy, drama, science fiction, or suspense. Genre films exclusive to African American cinema include Blaxploitation, Urban Drama, and Urban Romance films.


African Americans were fresh off the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and fired up when maverick filmmaker Melvin Van Peebles ‘s stark, anti-hero flick Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song , 1971, ushered in a series of hard-hitting films that depicted black people taking it to “the Man” and fighting the system. These films often dealt with the seedier side of black life and emphasized ghetto environments teeming with the aftereffects of drugs, illicit sex, and violence. This was one of the most productive periods of black film production lasting from 1971–1976. It became a new film genre and created a fresh crop of on-screen heroes, including Richard Roundtree: Shaft ; Ron O’Neil: Superfly ; Max Julien: The Mack ; Jim Brown: Slaughter ; Robert Hooks: Trouble Man ; Bernie Casey: Hit Man ; Fred Williamson: Hammer , and Nigger Charley . Popular female character icons of this period were Pam Grier: Coffy and Friday Foster ; Lola Falana: Lady Coco ; and Tamara Dobson: Cleopatra Jones .


African Americans often bore the brunt end of jokes, or were used to make people laugh in mainstream society and on the vaudeville stage. Many early films continued to exploit this comic persona, often to the detriment of the entire race. Several degrading examples, such as The Wooing and Wedding of a Coon , 1905, featured white actors in blackface portraying racially offensive characters. Vaudeville performer Bert Williams was the first African American to be featured as a star, in the motion picture Darktown Jubilee , 1914. Other popular vaudeville performers who made successful transitions to the big screen include Mantan Moreland, in Mantan Messes Up, 1946; Dewey “Pigmeat” Markham, in House-Rent Party, 1946; and Eddie Green in The Devil’s Parade , 1930; and Mr. Adam’s Bomb, 1949. The 1970s became the Dawn of the Crossover Comedians as stand-up comic Richard Pryor ushered in a host of highly successful comedy films such as Silver Streak, 1976; Car Wash, 1976; Which Way Is Up, 1977; and Stir Crazy, 1980. He paved the way for a flurry of other comedian-turned-actor activity that included Eddie Murphy and Whoopi Goldberg, both often appearing as the sole black lead of a mainstream film. Live concert films included Richard Pryor: Live on the Sunset Strip; Eddie Murphy: Delirious; and Bill Cosby: Himself . Urban Comedy has evolved from a focus on the ghetto or inner-city urban lifestyle. A number of films portray this element, such as Friday, 1995; Next Friday , 2000; Friday After Next, 2002; and Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood, 1996.

Gangster Films:

Inspired by the highly successful mobster movies of the 1930s with film stars such as George Raft and James Cagney, famed Apollo Theater emcee-turned-actor Ralph Cooper teamed up with producer Harry Popkin to create Million Dollar Productions. Their company produced the gangster films Dark Manhattan , 1937; Bargain with Bullets , 1937; and Gang War , 1940. These films paralleled the basic constructs of focusing on the criminal element in society with mob shootouts, racketeering, turf battles, and tough crime bosses fighting to maintain their own lucrative, though illegal spoils. Oscar Micheaux touched on the gangster genus with his films Easy Street , 1930, and Underworld, 1937. Popular actors of the genre include Alfred “Slick” Chester, known as “the Colored Cagney,” and Lorenzo “The Black Valentino” Tucker. More contemporary versions of this genre or gangsta films include Hoodlum , 1986; King of New York , 1990; and A Rage in Harlem , 1991.


There are two main parts to dramatic narrative structure: The story, or what happens and to whom, and the discourse, or how the story unfolds. Conflict is the essence of drama, and the purpose of a dramatic story line is to move or touch the audience in some emotional way. There is usually a struggle going on that is wrought with hardships, difficulty, and pain: Sounder , 1974. Or, someone has an important goal to reach and someone else says no: The Jackie Robinson Story , 1950. Dramas are generally serious stories depicting life situations in a realistic way with characters behaving at their worst and their best. These heart-wrenching tales of trouble and woe can take on many forms: Man against man: The Defiant Ones , 1958. Man against society: Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song , 1971. Man against nature: Cast Away , 2000. Man against machine: I-Robot , 2005. By the 1980s, some areas of the inner cities of American had become virtual war zones caused by an influx of illegal drugs and the gang violence that erupted due to the harsh turf battles that followed. One of the first films to reflect this state of urban strife in an honest way was John Singleton ‘s, Boyz N the Hood , 1991. Many other Urban Dramas soon exploited this newfound reality and created a popular new genre characterized by guns, drugs, violence, and revenge. Such films as New Jack City , 1991; Juice , 1992; South Central , 1992; and Menace II Society , 1993, were “keeping it real.” They were also keeping an audience in the theater seats. There were also softer tales from the hood that explored life’s hardships and interpersonal relationships, such as The Women of Brewster Place , 1989; There Are No Children Here , 1993; and Lackawanna Blues , 2005.


These scary movies with dark and macabre plots and characters often ooze with blood and gore. Audiences witness murder, death, and mayhem vicariously while munching popcorn from the safety of their seat in a crowded movie theater. Early black horror movies include Son of Ingagi , 1940; Professor Creeps , 1941; and the horror/comedy Fight That Ghost , 1946. The blaxploitation boom of the 1970s included the horror films Blackula , 1972; The Thing With Two Heads , 1972; and Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde , 1976. The black film renaissance of the 1990s provided the independently produced Def by Temptation , 1990, and Tales from the Hood , 1995. Straight-to-video releases in this genre include Ron Armstrong’s Bugged! , 1996, and S. Torriano Berry’s Embalmer , 1996.


Love stories are always ripe with passion, tension, betrayal, forgiveness, revenge, conflict, and lots of controversy which all makes for good cinema. Some films focus on the search, Waiting to Exhale , 1995; others on the journey, No Time for Romance , 1948; and many explore the break-ups, A Thin Line Between Love & Hate , 1996. Two early relationship pictures from the 1960s with African American leads were the interracial A Patch of Blue , 1965, and For Love of Ivy , 1968, both of which starred screen idol Sidney Poitier. The 1970s brought Aaron Loves Angela , 1975; Claudine , 1975; and Sparkle , 1976. In the 1990s, the focus shifted to inner-city love themes, which brought about a string of urban romance movies, including Poetic Justice , 1993; Jason’s Lyric , 1994; Love Jones , 1996; The Wood , 1999; The Best Man , 2000; and Brown Sugar , 2002. In 2000, Black Entertainment Television purchased the Arabesque line of romance novels from Kensington Publishing and turned many of these books into films.


These movies usually take place in the Wild West or out on the lawless prairie during America’s formative years circa the 1800s. Horse riding, fistfights, and “shoot’em up” shootouts are common staples of these exciting films. Ten-gallon hats, cowboy boots, chaps, and spurs are common wardrobe. Two early Westerns of the silent era were The Crimson Skull , 1922, and The Bull-Dogger , 1921. Both featured the rodeo talents of famed cowboy Bill Pickett. In the late 1930s, popular big band vocalist Herbert Jeffrey, who would later become known as Herb Jeffries, became a singing cowboy known as “The Bronze Buckeroo,” in a series of films beginning with Harlem on the Prairie , 1938. Scat-musician Louis Jordan starred in Look-Out Sister , 1946; funnyman Mantan Moreland rides tall in Come On, Cowboy , 1948; and former UCLA football star Woody Strode portrayed the title role in Sergeant Rutledge , 1961. Blaxploitation-era films of this genre include Buck and the Preacher , 1972, and Thomasine and Bushrod , 1974. The solo offering to come out of the black film renaissance era of the 1990s is Posse , 1999, the action-packed Spanish-American War drama starring and directed by Mario Van Peebles.

Film Industry - A New Industry, The Studio Years, The Television Years [next] [back] Film and Asian Americans - EARLY MOTION PICTURES, THE CINEMA OF RACE-WAR, NATIONALISM AND ECONOMIC CRISIS, INTERRACIAL TENSIONS, ALTERNATIVES

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