blaxploitation archive – THE BLACK GESTAPO

black_gestapoBAMF’s Blaxploitation Archive is a collection of reviews originally written in the 1990s that appeared in the pages of BadAzz MoFo. This review and many others have been reprinted and collected in BadAzz MoFo’s Book of Blaxploitation, Volume One, which is now available for purchase.

THE BLACK GESTAPO 1975 (a.k.a. Ghetto Warriors) director: Lee Frost; starring: Rod Perry, Charles Robinson

There are so many bad blaxploitation movies (and by bad, I don’t mean good), that it’s hard to say which are the ones you should avoid the most. If, however, you find yourself in a situation where you have an opportunity to see The Black Gestapo, I’d really recommend watching something like bestiality videos instead. Basically, what I’m trying to say is that if you never watch a blaxploitation film in your life, this is the one to not see.

This ineptly executed little ditty tells the story of the People’s Army, a Black Panther-like organization that protects the neighborhood, but is led astray by corruption and white poontang. Lead by ‘Nam vet General Ahmed (Perry), the People’s Army starts out with the best intentions, like running a health clinic, and tryin’ to protect young sistas from being assaulted by evil whiteys with chocolate fantasies. Things go wrong when Kojah (Robinson), Ahmed’s second in command, convinces the shit-for-brains leader to allow him to form a security force for their little community organization. Since Ahmed is dumber than a bag of dirt, it takes him awhile to get hip to the fact that Kojah’s security force has started muscling in on the mob’s action. Things begin to get out of hand as the security force start shakin’ down the community, takin’ up criminal activities, and makin’ it with the white ho’s that lounge around the pool at the People’s Army stronghold, while Kojah and his homies eat fried chicken. Seriously. Realizing what’s become of his organization, Ahmed sets out to stop Kojah, but not before you’ve likely stopped watching this garbage.

Starring Rod Perry, who helped bore the crap out of us in The Black Godfather (a.k.a. The Black Godawful), and Charles Robinson (Mack from television’s Night Court), The Black Gestapo can best be described as B-movie honky propaganda. The very concept of black empowerment and militancy is raped and distorted by this low-rent piece rancid garbage. And I do mean low rent. On a technical basis alone this movie is a loser. If movies were toilet paper, this would be the equivalent to wiping your ass with plywood.

Apparently writer Wes Bishop and director Lee Frost were trying to draw some comparison to the black power movement, Nazi Germany, and maybe even Idi Amin’s regime that was then in power in Uganda. Unfortunately, all they have done is make a bit of grindhouse dreck that is only entertaining the way cockfighting or dogs humping is fun for shits and giggles. Bishop and Frost had impressive careers both individually and as a team, in which they produced some of the schlockiest crap you could ever hope to not see.

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blaxploitation archive – ABAR, THE FIRST BLACK SUPERMAN

abarbuttonBAMF’s Blaxploitation Archive is a collection of reviews originally written in the 1990s that appeared in the pages of BadAzz MoFo. This review and many others have been reprinted and collected in BadAzz MoFo’s Book of Blaxploitation, Volume One, which is now available for purchase.

ABAR, THE FIST BLACK SUPERMAN 1977 (a.k.a. In Your Face) director: Frank Packard; starring: J. Walter Smith, Tobar Mayo

Of the over 200 movies that comprise the genre and the era of blaxploitation, there are quite a few made by filmmakers and actors who only turned out one or two films, before disappearing into total obscurity. Actors like Winston Thrash and Loye Hawkins, as well as directors like Renee Martinez and Bill Brame are all but forgotten. The sad thing is that most of the films turned out by these people, which include such craptacular garbage as The Guy from Harlem and Miss Melody Jones, don’t really warrant being remembered or even seen for that matter (trust me—I’ve seen most of ‘em). But every now and then one manages to shine through, and despite its rather questionable artistic merits or quality, keeps from being total shit. Such is the case with Abar, the First Black Superman.

You may think that Spawn and Blade were the first films to feature a super-powered black man whoopin’ ass, or that Meteor Man was cinema’s first black superhero, and you know what? You’re wrong! The first black cinematic superhero, as the film’s title indicates, is none other than John Abar (Tobar Mayo).

When black research scientist Dr. Ken Kincade (the long lost brother of gym teacher Chet Kincade?) moves his family to an all white neighborhood, the local honkys get their underwear all in a bunch. With a rabid mob of kill-crazy whiteys picketing on their front lawn, throwing garbage, and disemboweling their cat, the Kincades seem to be in dire circumstances. But all them honky muthas best look out, ‘cause ridin’ to the Kincade’s rescue, on a bunch of motorcycles, is the Black Front of Unity (BFU).

abar-black-supermanThe leader of the BFU is Abar, a super badass who has pledged his life to protect the black community. Before long, Abar is hired to protect the family full time; unfortunately he ain’t able to do shit when some honky sumbitch kills the Kincade’s young son, Tommy. Now, it seems that Doc Kincade (Smith) has been working on a serum that can make a man indestructible, just like the bullet-proof rabbits that he keeps in his basement laboratory. It takes a little persuading, but when the evil crackers take a few shots at Abar, he’s more than willing to swig the doctor’s serum like a bottle of Thunderbird, thus turning him into a bullet-proof ghetto avenger. But not only is Abar now indestructible, he also has incredible psychic abilities, as well as divine powers that will allow him to battle racism. All of that from drinking a tiny vial of a liquid that looks like urine.

No, dear readers, I’m not making any of this up—what you just read is really the plot. Abar, the First Black Superman is one of the more freaky flicks I’ve ever sat through (which is saying a lot). This is the sort of film that leaves you in wide-eyed wonder saying, “Wow.”

The film gets especially crazy after Abar takes Dr. Kincade’s serum, and goes on what can only be described as a super powered holy mission to destroy racism. Seriously. It’s so crazy—not to mention poorly executed—that it becomes a treat just to watch for its sheer insanity and ineptitude. You find yourself wondering how this movie got made. And even more unbelievable is the fact that you’re watching it.

Despite its freaky nature and an absurd premise, Abar is a fun film, not to mention very political. This little gem offers up a great concept, with some profound and provocative dialog that at times borders on brilliance. What’s really deep is the notion that it takes a black man with increased mental and physical strength, to battle the evil ways of whitey. Of course the profound nature of the story, and the smatterings of choice dialog are all marred by some of the worst (and I do mean worst) acting you will ever see. And let’s not forget inept directing, lighting, editing, story structure, soundtrack, and every other technical and aesthetic element you can think of. This is a film where pretty much everything that can be done poorly is done poorly, making Abar a series of great and interesting ideas, drowning in a vast ocean of cinematic ineptitude.

But all the vast hindrances that would destroy any other crappy film simply can’t keep this movie down. There is just a bit too much goodness, buried deep beneath all the junk, for this film to actually suck. There are even a few moments that make my jigaboo heart swell with pride, like when the BFU first ride up on their motorcycles, chase off the evil whiteys, and place an African flag on the Kincade’s front lawn. I cried like a baby. And I love the dream sequence when Kincade’s son dreams the family is back in the old west facing down a group of white vigilantes. Black cowboy Deadwood Dick (Abar, as the real life gunslinger Nat “Deadwood Dick” Love) rides to the rescue, and blasts the vile honky vermin away; declaring, “My friends call me Deadwood Dick; but my enemies call me Smart Black Nigger.”

From what I can tell, nearly every person involved with this movie was never involved with another film—which should clue you in as to the quality of work involved. Neither director Frank Packard nor screenwriter James Smalley appears to have ever made another film. In fact, Tobar Mayo seems to be the only person with any sort of career either before or after Abar. Mayo, who looks like the love child of Ji-Tu Cumbuka and Doug E. Fresh, and who may or may not be related to Whitman Mayo (Grady on Sanford & Son), also appeared in Charles Barnett’s brilliant Killer of Sheep, the crappy Big Time, as well as a handful of television shows, including The Jeffersons and Mannix. He was also in Panama Red, directed by Bob Chinn, who is best known for his work in porno, and as creator of the Johnny Wadd series starring John Holmes. Mayo is also listed in the credits of Escape from New York, and even though I’ve seen that film a hundred times, it seems I keep blinking whenever my main man is on the screen. Although he’s not the best actor in the world, Mayo is Shakespearean in comparison to the other cast members of Abar, who really stink up the screen in a way that is both appalling and endearing, making this film a special kind of classic.

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blaxploitation archive – TRUCK TURNER

truckturnerBAMF’s Blaxploitation Archive is a collection of reviews originally written in the 1990s that appeared in the pages of BadAzz MoFo. This review and many others have been reprinted and collected in BadAzz MoFo’s Book of Blaxploitation, Volume One, which is now available for purchase.

TRUCK TURNER 1974 (a.k.a. Black Bullet) director: Jonathan Kaplan; starring: Isaac Hayes, Yaphet Kotto, Alan Weeks Anazette Chase, Nichelle Nichols
Mac “Truck” Turner is one of those no-shit takin’, ass kickin’ bounty hunters that always gets his man. Along with is his ace boon coon, Jerry (Alan Weeks), Truck sets out to collect the bounty on a ruthless pimp named Gator (Paul Harris). Things take a turn for the worse when Truck accidentally fills Gator full of lead. Meanwhile, Jerry gets stabbed by Gator’s Sondra Locke-lookin’ ho, effectively puttin’ his black ass outta commission. Pissed off that her main man Gator is takin’ a dirt nap, chief CEO of the local ho house, Dorinda (Nichols), places a price on the head of Truck and Jerry. Dorinda offers her “fine stable of pussy” as payment to anyone that can greatly shorten the life expectancy of our heroes. Next thing you know, every pimp in town sets out to give Truck a flat tire (if you know what I mean). Among the army of killer pimps is Harvard Blue (Kotto), the most sinister of all love brokers. Not only is he lookin’ to introduce our hero to the grim reaper, he is bound and determined to be the king of all pimps. Ahhh, to have goals.

Surprisingly, Truck Turner is a highly entertaining film, and among one of the better blaxploitation films you’re likely to find. Much of what makes this bad boy so much fun are the performances of Hayes in the lead of role Truck Turner and Kotto as Harvard Blue. Hayes is laid back, tough and charming, all at the same time. Not exactly the best actor in the world, he’s very comfortable in front of the camera, and radiates cool. Kotto, on the other hand, is downright brutal as the killer pimp—imagine Live and Let Die’s Dr. Kananga, only with a stable of bitches. Kotto brings a sense of class to an otherwise unclassy character, and in doing so makes Harvard Blue one of the most memorable villains in blaxploitation history. Also keep an eye open for appearances from a ton of character actors, including Dick Miller, Scatman Crothers, Sam Laws, and Stan Shaw. And of course there’s Star Trek’s Lt. Uhura as Dorinda. You ain’t never heard no woman cuss up a storm the way Uhura does in this flick. Every other word out of homegirl’s mouth is “nigger”, “motherfucker,” “pussy,” “shit,” and “bitch.” She is more foul mouthed than the entire cast of the Talk Dirty to Me series. I was actually embarrassed and aroused at the same time.

Credit for Truck Turner being the entertaining flick it is also needs to go to screenwriter Oscar Williams, the man who also gave life to Black Belt Jones, as well as writing, directing and producing the incredibly underrated Billy Dee Williams flick The Final Comedown. Originally, Truck Turner was a film that was developed for Robert Mitchum. After Mitchum bowed out of the project, James Coburn was set to play the lead role. By the time Coburn left the project, AIP had invested too much time and money into the script, so it was decided that Truck Turner would be reworked into a black film, in hopes of a quick return at the box office. Williams and Michael Allin (Enter the Dragon) were brought in to give the script a “black feel,” but what they actually did was infuse the script with enough personality and sense of humor that it rises above much of the typical blaxploitation shit. With the new script by Williams and Allin, Dick Anthony Williams, best known as Pretty Tony in The Mack, was cast as Truck Turner, but he was eventually replaced by Hayes, who was thought to have a stronger box office draw.

Truck Turner is one of those films that is good the first time you watch it, and gets better with each viewing. The movie has a great pace, and the characters are surprisingly well developed for what is essentially a low budget exploitation flick. In most films of this nature, the characters have little to no dimension, but part of what makes this movie so great is the way the characters play off each other. This is especially true with the scenes between Truck and Jerry, and even more so in scenes with Truck and his old lady, Annie (Anazette Chase). In fact, some of the film’s best moments occur between Truck and Annie.

The better than average direction by Jonathan Kaplan (who also directed The Slams, and would go on to helm Jodie Foster in The Accused), along with the sharp script, makes Truck Turner a stand out film in the blaxploitation genre—a consistently entertaining movie that holds up to multiple viewings.

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Sidekick-ism (a.k.a. Tokens of My Affection)

sidekicksThere was that moment in 2008’s Iron Man, when Rhodey (Terrence Howard) eyeballs one of Tony Stark’s suits and says, “Next time.” Hardcore comic fans went nuts, because we knew that meant Rhodey would most likely return in a sequel, armored up as War Machine. Of course, Howard was replaced by Don Cheadle—no complaints on my part—and he did, in fact, suit up as War Machine in Iron Man 2. Cheadle donned a different suit in Iron Man 3, much to the surprise of some comic fans, and became Iron Patriot. It is difficult to convey the level of excitement I had—first, when Howard hinted at the promise of becoming a costumed superhero, and then when Cheadle made good on that promise. The only problem—at least for me—was that Cheadle never really got to be a superhero. Instead, he got to be a sidekick.

You would think that I’d have tempered my excitement when it was announced that Anthony Mackie would appear in Captain America: The Winter Soldier as Sam Wilson/Falcon, and to be honest, I did. And then the first images of Mackie in his exo-skeleton flying rig emerged. Then came the trailers. And though I did my best not to, I went nuts. Not just because the second Captain America looked to be better than the first—which it did—but because we were getting a black superhero. To be clear, by “we” I mean all of us folks that have been clamoring for a black superhero on screen for years, if not decades. And to be even more clear, The Meteor Man doesn’t count. Neither does Blankman, Steel, or Hancock. What “we” wanted was a superhero of color on par with Iron Man or Captain America, or any of the other heroes that have been leaping on to the big screen now for more than a decade. Foolishly, after the undeniable disappointment of War Machine/Iron Patriot, some of us thought our wish had finally come true. We thought our moment had finally come with Captain America: The Winter Soldier—that Falcon would give us what we so desperately wanted. Instead, we got another sidekick. Continue reading

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Marvel is Disney, DC is Warner Brothers, and We All Need to Stop Working for Them for Free

As anyone who knows me, or knows my work can tell you, I’m something of a pop culture nut. I love movies and comic books and television…okay, not so much television these days…but you get my point. I’m eagerly awaiting the new Captain America movie, I go to the comic book store at least once a month and pick up a variety of titles, and I still buy movies on DVD (because I’m not going to invest in a Blu-Ray player). And with all the things that I consume as a middle-age geek, I tend to keep an eye open on any number of websites for news and updates about this thing and that thing that will no doubt take some of my disposable income because, let’s face it, I’m a sucker. And just like so many other geeks—or, if you prefer, nerds—I have a tendency to post about the things I read, either on Twitter or Facebook, or both. That bit of news a few weeks ago about John Boyenga of Attack the Block possibly being in the new Star Wars movie? I posted about it. The new trailer for X-Men: Days of Future Past? I posted it. The preview of some new comic from DC that looks terrible? I posted it. Like so many other people with the unfortunate habit of spending too much time on the Internet and engaging in the insidious time-suck known as social media, I post a ton of stuff. Continue reading

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Cartoon Fun Time 16 – Random Caricatures

caricaturesFound these old sketches I did back in 1989. This is me trying to do caricatures. Bonus points if you can figure out who these are supposed to be.

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A Blast from the Past

review 1The first ever review of BadAzz MoFo, from back in August 1996. In those days, it was just a digest-sized zine.

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The Best of BAMF – An Interview with WILL EISNER

spirit 1Every year, the week of March 6th is Will Eisner Week. The sixth of March is, of course, the birthday of Eisner, a storyteller best known for creating the ground-breaking comic strip The Spirit in 1940. Eisner is often credited as the founding father of the American comic book; and though that statement is a bit of an exaggeration, it’s not that much of an exaggeration. Eisner’s impact on the comic book medium is beyond measure, as is his impact on contemporary popular culture. Not everyone knows Eisner’s name as a creator, but the influence of his work is interwoven throughout storytelling in multiple mediums and genres.

Thirty-eight years after creating The Spirit, Eisner wrote and drew A Contract with God, the critically acclaimed comic that was the precursor to the contemporary graphic novel. His book Comics and Sequential Art has become an indispensable source for understanding and creating comics. Eisner passed away in 2005, but I was fortunate enough to meet him in June of 2001, when my friend, Diana Schutz introduced us. For me, it was an honor to talk with one of the most influential men in a medium I hold so close to my heart. Here is the interview that I conducted back in 2001. Continue reading

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BECOMING BLACK – an excerpt, part 3

nelson hancock smallHere is an excerpt from my collection of essays, Becoming Black: Personal Ramblings on Racial Identification, Racism, and Popular Culture. In this essay, “Double Consciousness, Roots, and Finding Our Place in History,” I attempted to explain the history of slavery in America, by looking through a very personal lens. Rather than talk about slavery in terms of abstract individuals, which is what most conversations surrounding the topic tend to do, I talked about the people in my family. I was fortunately able to include a picture of my great-great grandfather, Nelson Hancock (pictured left), who was born a slave.

Lelia Moore, Mary Anne Settle, William and Mary Vaugthers, and Catherine Mulatto Brown are four of my great grandparents who exist on my family tree with no real history to call their own. They are joined by other generations of my great grandparents Joe Walker, Amanda Walker, Thomas and Mary Banks, Samuel and Katy Venable, Issac Jackson, and Susan Brown, all of who were slaves, but whose stories have long since been forgotten. It is as if their existence didn’t matter enough to be properly recorded or remembered, and their forgotten lives—like the forgotten lives of millions of other slaves—are all missing chapters in the history of this nation. On a national level, each one of these missing chapters is a part of America’s history that has never been told. But on a more personal level, these chapters are pieces of your being—of your soul—that have been lost and can never be recovered, leaving you incomplete. This incompleteness, born out of a lack of history, tells you that you came from nothing, and therefore part of what you are is nothingness—you are defined by, and regarded by, a lack of understanding of what came before you. And again, this is where double-consciousness is formed.
To be the descendent of slaves is to be the heir to a fragmented history that inevitably is a frustrating mess of non-existence on one side, and, quite frequently, surprising revelations on the other side. The legacy of slavery in America is like a giant tree. On one side of the tree, massive branches extend across the Atlantic Ocean to Europe. The boughs are strong, having grown for centuries, blooming with leafs of history. On the other side of the tree, most of the branches have been chopped off and hauled away to be used as firewood. The branches that remain are short, with leafs that bloom sporadically. It is almost impossible to believe that these two drastically different sides can exist on one tree—one side lush and healthy, the other side ravaged by abuse and neglect. Yet there it is, for everyone to see, a giant tree that grows in every town and every city in America, providing shade with its giant branches on one side, while the other side, with its damaged and severed limbs that leave people wondering, “What’s wrong with this tree?”

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Examining Cyrus, THE WARRIORS, and remembering Roger Hill

cyrusBest known for his role as the charismatic gang leader Cyrus in Walter Hill’s The Warriors, actor Roger Hill passed away this week at age 65. Most people didn’t know Hill by his given name, though some recognized him from his time on the soap opera One Life to Live, and diehard fans of 1970s black cinema easily spotted him in The Education of Sonny Carson. But for millions of cinemaniacs, Hill was simply Cyrus, the ill-fated leader of the Gramercy Riffs, with the audacious plan to unite all the gangs of New York into an army to fight back against the police, organized crime, and the other oppressive forces that kept the poor people of New York enslaved by poverty, dope, and crime.

The Warriors was based on a novel by Sol Yurick, with a screenplay by David Shaber and director Hill. What many fans of The Warriors don’t know is that is was very loosely based on Xenophon’s Anabasis, the epic true tale of Greek mercenaries working for Cyrus the Younger, who became trapped behind enemy lines after their leader was killed in the Battle of Cunaxa, and they had to fight their way back to the sea. All of this took place around 401 BC, and recognizing the connection between Anabasis and The Warriors is reserved solely for history buffs or anyone talking time to watch the bonus features on The Warriors DVD (and folks like me, who studied as much as they could about the movie from the moment it came out in 1979).

cyrus_the_warriorsOver the years, I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen The Warriors. And as the film’s cult status has continued to grow, more and more people have become aware of how the film was influenced by the real-life events chronicled by Xenophon. But I’ve often wondered about the other real-life events that possibly influenced The Warriors, and especially the character of Cyrus, who was in fact inspired by Cyrus the Younger, son of Darius II of Persia. As far as I know, no one else has ever written about this (and if they have, I apologize for not giving them credit), but I can’t help but feel that Cyrus was partially influenced by two very important 20th century leaders more than a 4th century BC prince. Those two men would be Fred Hampton of Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, and Afrika Bambaataa, hip-hop pioneer and founder of the Universal Zulu Nation.

For all of its over-the-top action and melodrama, The Warriors has at is core a very subversive political message. This is the message delivered by Cyrus, moments before he is gunned down. It is the message of taking back the streets, of organizing the criminalized and the oppressed to protect the community. Ultimately, he is talking about politicizing non-political people, and taking control of city that has left the oppressed to either starve, die, or rot in jail. Without going into the incredible history of the late great Fred Hampton, take a look at what he was doing to politicize the street gangs of Chicago, until he was murdered by the police department. Take a look at how Afrika Bambaataa helped transform the notorious Black Spades street gang into the Universal Zulu Nation.

roger-hill-the-warriorsNow, I could be off in my reading of Cyrus in The Warriors. Maybe there are no influences to be found in the lives and accomplishments of Hampton and Bambaataa. Maybe Roger Hill’s performance was not inspired at all by Fred Hampton or Afrika Bambaataa. Maybe, instead, with his light complexion, Cyrus was an alternate universe version of Malcolm X or Huey P. Newton, two dynamic leaders that also struggled to politicize the Black community. Imagine for a moment a fictional world where Malcolm Little never joined the Nation of Islam and became Malcolm X, but instead became a gang leader in New York, where in time he began to recognize the systems of oppression that kept him and the community dehumanized.

I know all of this may seem ridiculous to some people—and perhaps it is pointless to think about these things. But this is all part of what makes the film so compelling to me. Part of appreciating and critically examining film (and pop culture) is learning to look at it through a larger lens, to recognize the possibility of what certain moments may mean, or what influenced these moments. Perhaps nothing went into the character of Cyrus other than writing his speech, casting Roger Hill, and shooting his scene. But I doubt that. The reason Cyrus and his speech has resonated with so many people for so long is because there is within him something recognizable that we all are looking for—at least those of us who have known the realities of sociopolitical oppression and police brutality. To put it simply, Cyrus had a plan to stick it to The Man.

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