5 Of The Baddest Babes Of Blaxploitation
The blaxploitation movement gave us some of the earliest instances of strong, independent and kickass women in film. These women took action into their own hands and weren't so thinly drawn that they require a man to come to their rescue. In fact, these films allowed the women to do the saving for once. The depictions of female characters in early blaxploitation films would make a great impact on cinema and how it views women. These films would also go on to inspire future filmmakers to create empowering female characters. However, out of the thousands of blaxploitation films to emerge, only a handful of actresses would make a lasting impression.
Today, we honor the strong women of the movement by taking a brief look at our five favorite actresses to emerge out of the genre and highlight a few of their notable works.
- Marki Bey
Bey is most remembered for her portrayal of the title character in 1974 film Sugar Hill, and she earns her bad blaxploitation babe status by using voodoo to get revenge on the people responsible for her boyfriend's death. In exchange for her soul, the Dark Master raises up a zombie army to do her bidding.
- Tamara Dobson
Standing at a staggering 6'2'', Dobson was once recognized by the Guinness book of world records as the "Tallest Leading Lady in Film". She's remembered most for her role as the title character in Cleopatra Jones (which we'll be taking a deeper look at later this week) and Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold. Dobson kept her integrity intact, refusing to do nude scenes, which really set her apart from the hyper-sexuality of other black heroines of the time. Sadly, Dobson's career in film would be as short lived as the genre itself, and she would fade from silver-screen stardom before the 80s broke.
- Marlene Clark
Clark is most well known for her role as Ganja in the horror film Ganja and Hess. The film was an experimental marvel that was praised at the 1973 Cannes Film Festival as "the most important Black produced film since Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song". The use of vampirism as a metaphor for black assimilation, white cultural imperialism and the hypocrisies of organized religion were unparalleled in any other blaxploitation picture. Gory, sexually explicit and awash with fantasy/dream sequences, the film is definitely a must-watch. Clark also furthereed her bad blaxploitation babe status in Black Mamba and Switchblade Sisters.
- Vonetta McGee
McGee launched her career in Italy during the late ‘60s before breaking into blaxploitation films. Her most notable films are Blacula (1972), Melinda (1972), Hammer (1972), and Shaft in Africa (1973). McGee considered herself “one of the lucky graduates of the Black-film genre", but also openly admitted she wasn’t fond of the term “blaxploitation” because it was used interchangeably “like racism.”
- Pam Grier
Pam Grier is easily the most iconic actress to emerge from the blaxploitation genre. She's most notable for collaborations with Jack Hill, like Coffy and Foxy Brown, but the pair had collaborated earlier prior to the success of those films. Grier was influential in establishing that African American sexuality, Afro hairstyles, and big sunglasses were acceptable and far from unattractive. Taking a page out of Film Noir's book, Grier's characters would often have a black widow quality to them, often using their sexuality as a weapon, proving that she's the baddest and most dangerous of them all. Unlike many actresses that surfaced during the blaxploitation craze, Grier's career would see a resurgence in the late 90s to present with the help of Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown.
Did we leave your favorite blaxploitation vixen off our list? We want to know. Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments section below, and as always, remember to viddy well, sucka!