BECOMING BLACK – an excerpt

banner 2Here is an excerpt from my collection of essays, Becoming Black: Personal Ramblings on Racial Identification, Racism, and Popular Culture. This the first paragraph from an essay entitled “Racism 2.0.”

After the election of Barack Obama in 2008, racism went away. The election of the first Black President of the United States magically transformed America into something known as “post-racial.” It was truly spectacular to witness, as centuries of racial ideology went away, or reversed itself, or whatever it was that happened when American became post-racial, and this country was transformed into an idyllic nation of equality. Unfortunately, if you blinked, you would have missed this incredible turn of events, and in turn you would not have noticed a split second later, when America ceased being post-racial, and returned to its old racial ideologies with so much fury and speed that it seemed like racism may have gotten a bionic upgrade. Indeed, after America’s brief flirtation with being post-racial, which again, lasted for all of one or two seconds, we all woke up to what I affectionately like to call “Racism 2.0.”

And this is the last paragraph of the same essay.

In the end, as we look at the concept of race in this country—a concept that has sadly spread across the globe—we see that America is a nation that has traded its humanity for personal and economic gain. People of color were robbed of their humanity to justify these gains, while White people traded their humanity to make these gains. This is what happened during slavery, and it continues today wherever people are being oppressed, exploited and, in some cases, killed for the sake of riches. And no matter where any of us lands on the racial spectrum, we all must come to terms with our culpability in this on-going process of weighing human life against the accumulation of wealth. It has left us diseased and broken, and the collective unwillingness to look at what has happened to us brings with it nothing more than the promise of our continued dehumanization.

To read “Racism 2.0″ in its entirety, please check out Becoming Black: Personal Ramblings on Racial Identification, Racism, and Popular Culture.

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bulletsposter-2Here’s a short film that I directed, The Day They Ran Out of Bullets. Watch it for free.

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Without Shame – THE PRIVATE EYES

private eyesHere we have another movie that I am not ashamed to admit that I saw when it in the theater. I have very little memory of The Private Eyes, starring Tim Conway and Don Knotts, other than a scene where they are standing in horse poop. I saw this as a double feature with Oh, Heavenly Dog, starring Chevy Chase and Benji. I don’t remember that film either, although I do recall liking The Private Eyes much more. In fact, I saw The Private Eyes twice.

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blaxploitation archive – COUNTDOWN AT KUSINI (a.k.a. COOL RED)

cool redWithin the ranks of black films of the 1970s, there are a handful of titles that remain shrouded with an air of mystery. These are the “lost” films of the blaxploitation, of which there are two distinct types. The first type of lost blaxploitation film are those that have never been officially released on home video, but have still managed to find a home on bootleg videos. Films like Melinda and The Legend of Nigger Charley, though never having had any sort of authorized release, can be found on DVD. But then there’s the other type of lost film that is truly lost. These are the ones that have never turned up on video in any way, and in some cases have not been seen since their original release. Perhaps the most famous of these lost films is director Ossie Davis’s Countdown at Kusini (a.k.a. Cool Red), a movie with an interesting history, that has remained largely unseen since its initial release in 1976.

Best known for his role as Barney Collier on the television series Mission: Impossible, Greg Morris stars as Red Salter, an American jazz musician working in Nigeria. Red is trying to make time with Leah Matanzima (Ruby Dee), who is working with a group of rebels trying to liberate the fictional nation of Fahari. Leah recruits Red to help smuggle Ernest Motapo (Ossie Davis), the leader of the revolutionary army, out of Nigeria and into Fahari. Motapo is being hunted by mercenary Ben Amed (Tom Aldredge), who has been hired by a powerful corporation that has been oppressing the people of Fahari, and stripping the nation of its natural resources. Though he is reluctant to get too heavily involved, Red soon finds himself fighting along with Motapo and the rebels to liberate their homeland from its colonialist oppressors.

Coming along as the popularity of blaxploitation was crashing and burning, Countdown at Kusini was conceived and produced as something of an alternative to what was often seen as a largely negative genre. To be certain, a great many of the films produced and marketed to black audiences in the 1970s were mired in negativity, as well as hampered by low budgets and inferior production values. Although it sought to put forth a more positive, empowering, and politically provocative message than the other films being churned—especially those being churned out toward the tail end of the cycle—Countdown at Kusini suffers from the same budgetary and production value issues found in some of the more notoriously bad blaxploitation films. But because the film has been barely seen since coming out in 1976, it has become regarded as something of a lost classic—the assumption being that it is probably a decent film (never mind the fact that the film received mostly negative reviews). The sad truth of the matter is that though the backstory of how and why Countdown at Kusini was made (a story I will get into in my upcoming book), the movie itself isn’t very good. It stops short of being truly bad, though it teeters dangerously close to the edge of cliff of being bad.

countdownThe victim of a very limited budget, and a long list of production woes incurred while shooting in Nigeria, Countdown at Kusini starts out promising as politically charged assault on colonialism in Africa. But the film quickly falls apart, weighed down by a flimsy, poorly developed screenplay, with even more poorly developed characters. Best known as an actor, Ossie Davis helped launch blaxploitation as the director of Cotton Comes to Harlem and highly under-rated Gordon’s War. Davis co-wrote, co-produced, and directed Countdown at Kusini, which is probably the main reason people have been willing to give this film the benefit of the doubt. Sadly, it isn’t deserving of any assumptions of greatness, because, quite honestly, there is no greatness to be found. Though it is clear the budget is limited, neither Davis, nor director of photography, Andrew Laszlo (The Warriors, First Blood) seem to be able to give the film any sense of style or energy. The result is a flat, lifeless script that looks equally flat and lifeless, shot primarily in medium shots that betray the film as having been shot as quickly and efficiently as possible. Unfortunately, quick and efficient aren’t always what a movie needs, especially when the script itself is lacking.

Despite everything working against it, Countdown at Kusini does have moments that work. Most notably, the film manages to pull itself together for a satisfying climax that constitutes the most well crafted portion of the film. The rest of the film, however, is not that well crafted or nearly as compelling. The film earns points for its anti-colonialist message, but other films have handled that subject matter much better, including director Valerio Zurlini’s poorly titled 1968 film Black Jesus (a.k.a. Seated at His Right), starring Woody Strode, and Gillo Pontecorvo’s masterpiece The Battle of Algiers. Even during its best moments, Countdown at Kusini can’t hold its own against other like-minded films.

NOTE: For those wondering how I managed to see Countdown at Kusini, the short version is that I was able to view it through the UCLA Film Archive while researching my upcoming book—Macked, Hammered, Slaughtered, & Shafted. I will go more in depth into the history of the film itself in the book.
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blaxploitation archive – WELCOME HOME BROTHER CHARLES

BAMF’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.

WELCOME HOME BROTHER CHARLES 1975 (a.k.a Soul Vengeance) 1975 director: Jamaa Fanaka; starring: Marlo Monte
They say that seeing is believing. Well, Welcome Home Brother Charles has to be seen to be believed. If there is a fine line that separates high art from cheap exploitation, writer, producer, director Jamaa Fanaka straddles it like a circus high wire act, teetering from one side to the other, but always managing to maintain his precarious balance.

Our story begins when our main man Charles (Monte), a two-bit criminal, is busted by some sadistic cops who attempt to castrate him. After serving three years in prison for a crime he didn’t actually commit, Charles returns home, vowing to never deal dope again, and live on the straight and narrow. There is one major exception, however, to Charles’ new found law abiding life style. It seems Brother Charles has got some plans to serve up a serious helpin’ of payback to all those involved in his wrongful stint in the joint.

The quest for revenge takes Welcome Home Brother Charles down a path that results in the most outrageous plot twist ever conceived in the history of film. And by “the most outrageous plot twist ever conceived in the history of film,” what I really mean to say is, “the most outrageous plot twist ever conceived in the history of film.” At first I wasn’t going to divulge what this totally insane thing was, but since everyone who has ever written about this movie spills the beans, I don’t see why I should be any different. Besides, you won’t believe what you’re about to read anyway…

Charles, it seems, has developed the amazing ability to make his penis grow up to fifteen feet long. Maintaining total control of his anaconda-like joint, he then uses his penis to strangle his enemies as if it were a snake. That’s right; he uses his penis to strangle his enemies. You did not just read it wrong. He uses his manhood to kill the evil whiteys.

Produced as a student film while at UCLA, Welcome Home Brother Charles served as an appropriate introduction to Jamaa Fanaka’s work. Fanaka, the man who brought us the classic Penitentiary series, and after whom the term “Fanakaesque” was coined, has created one of the most standout works of the blaxploitation era with this meditation on whitey’s futile attempt to destroy black male sexuality. Crude and amateurish at times, there is a raw, visceral energy to Brother Charles that is only found in a select few films. The first three quarters of this film is as brutal, and hardcore as most people claim Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song is. But for my money, Welcome Home Brother Charles is a better flick. While it may be rough around the edges, it is still easier to watch than Van Pebble’s film, not to mention more entertaining.

Keep in mind that Welcome Home Brother Charles is available on video as Soul Vengeance, it’s more commonly used name. This is a must see film. And keep the remote control handy, ‘cause you’re gonna wanna rewind to see that huge schlong snakin’ across the floor on it’s way to choke the life out of an evil ofay.

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Without Shame – THEY CALL ME BRUCE?

theycallmebruceThis is the start of a new series of posts (which I will inevitably not post that regularly), called Without Shame. Quite simply, this is a chronicle of movies that I actually saw in the theater when they came out—movies I should ashamed to admit I’ve seen. First up: They Call Me Bruce?, the 1982 comedy starring Johnny Yune. Saw this at the old Broadway Theater in Portland. Watched it twice. Haven’t seen it since.

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macked book 1 LOW RESLate last year I announced a new project, Macked, Hammered, Slaughtered, & Shafted, a book covering this history of blaxploitation (that takes its name from my documentary of the same title). Several people have been asking about the book, wanting to know things like if it was a reprint of old material from BadAzz MoFo, and when it would be out. Well, I’ve been slowly and steadily working on the book for several months (in between other various projects), and my self-imposed publishing deadline is February 2015. Yes, I know, releasing a book dealing with black history during Black History Month is a bit of a cliche, but I prefer to think of it as being traditionalist. So, hopefully that answers the questions of when. There will be a crowdfunding campaign (most likely Indiegogo) that will launch in the next few months. As for whether or not the book will reprint old material from BadAzz MoFo…the answer is, “No, it will not.” The vast majority of the stuff written for BadAzz MoFo is more than a decade old, and I’m capable of better writing. More important, the subject matter deserves better writing and more attention than I gave it in the past. There may be some basic stuff I pull from older reviews, but the bulk of Macked, Hammered, Slaughtered, & Shafted will be new material (or at least heavily edited from its original version). The book will include an incredibly in-depth historical examination of blaxploitation, extended reviews of key films, and some cool material that I’m still putting together, but want to keep as a secret for now. If you want my old reviews, check out the Blaxploitation Archive, which over the next few months will post nearly all of my old reviews. Or if you prefer, buy some back issues of BAMF.

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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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