In 1971, a film called Shaft—a breakthrough for Black cinema—was released. It was what Junius Griffin, then president of the Beverly Hills-Hollywood branch of the NAACP, called “Blaxploitation,” a term he derisively coined by combining “Black” with the “exploitation” genre of film. Blaxploitation films have since been reappraised for elevating Black characters into heroes, rather than sidekicks or criminals, as they were often portrayed onscreen during the 1960s.
The movement took off throughout the 1970s, with hundreds of titles that played in independent theaters. It made stars of Black actors and depicted Black society as full of wit, wealth, and substance, with films that ranged from crime to action, Westerns, comedies, and musicals.
A new exhibition at Poster House in New York City called You Won’t Bleed Me: How Blaxploitation Posters Defined Cool & Delivered Profits features 20 movie posters from the genre, showcasing how influential they were in a time before Black characters made their way to mainstream film in projects such as the James Bond thriller Live and Let Die.
Here, the exhibition’s curator, Adam Howard (who works as a producer on Full Frontal With Samantha Bee), talks us through five posters from this epic era of cinema.