Arts & Entertainment

Director of African American Center for Cultural Development Lectures on Blaxploitation Films

Richard Roundtree starred in the "Shaft" movies and TV series. Credits: CBS Television Public Domain

OLEAN, NY—Though only five people attended her presentation about blaxploitation films Sunday afternoon, Della Moore was not disheartened.

Moore, the director of the African American Center for Cultural Development, treated the handful of audience members who gathered in the center’s basement as though they were a crowd of a thousand people, making sure she spoke loudly and passionately throughout the hourlong talk.

“I never mind a small audience, because as long as one person gets it, I’m okay,” Moore said.

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One person, she noted, has the power to receive any information she provided and pass it on to countless others.

Moore started the presentation by discussing Oscar Micheaux, an early 20th century filmmaker known for creating race films comprised mostly of  black cast members and attracting primarily black audiences. Micheaux wrote, directed and produced his films by himself.

“He did it all,” Moore said, and then she played six minutes of a YouTube video about Micheaux’s work.

After that, Moore focused on actresses such as Butterfly McQueen and Hattie McDaniel, who had roles as housemaids in the 1939 film Gone With the Wind. Though McDaniel received an Academy Award for her role in the film, Moore labeled the two women as examples of talented black actresses being relegated to more demeaning roles than deserved.  

“They had every right to be an actress as a Katharine Hepburn or a Sharon Stone,” said Moore. “Their inroad was not on an even scale at all.”

Moore moved on to the blaxploitation movies of the 1970s, such as Shaft, Cleopatra Jones, Coffy and the films of Melvin Van Peebles. She mentioned how the 1997 film Jackie Brown, featuring blaxploitation heroine Pam Grier as the titular character, paid tribute to those 1970s films by reinstating some of the genre’s tropes.

Moore also said people like entertainment tycoon Tyler Perry and Shonda Rhimes, the creator of the television series Grey’s Anatomy, had been influenced by these films.

“They’re standing on the shoulders of the people who did blaxploitation,” said Moore. “Every turn at the wheel helps somebody.”

Moore said she plans to continue holding events such as this at the center, no matter the turnout.

“It’s gonna be like a ripple in the lake,” she said. “I’m gonna keep on trying.”


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