While in retrospect, the films of the Blaxploitation era provided us with many cringe-worthy moments, they did contribute two things that can be viewed as positive. Black actors got work. And it was abundantly clear not only that Black was beautiful, but it was damn sexy to boot!
Many a curious adolescent snuck into a screening at the multiplex from some G rated fare next door, and the more daring braved a trip in the trunk of the car, to enjoy the experience at the drive-in (remember those?).
The thrill of seeing bush and boobs for the first time, embodied in a curvy chocolate casing was for many a defining moment – one they can still recount in great detail. Male actors were no less bashful, doffing dashikis to display chiseled chests, sprinkled with peppercorn clumps of hair – because real brovas don’t wax nothin’.
Sex was as much a declaration of liberation as it was an act of desire – with lingering shots of butts and nips, and on occasion even dangling bits. Black folks brought the thunder, and audiences, colored and otherwise, wet their pants.
These days, what have we got? Huh? Can’t hear you. What?
Yes, sadly, it seems that this generation of filmmakers have forgotten one of Hollywood’s greatest rules. Sex sells. It’s as if their creativity is fueled by large doses of salt-peter, and the result is a fine display of violence by eunuchs, who find some release in misogynistic displays of beating down a bitch for sharing her erotic side – cause only hos do that.
There was a nice attempt during the 90s to give Black love an on-screen upgrade, but somebody (was that you?) threw cold water on that boner.
Do you honestly think that all those A-list stars are famous because they are stellar talents? Ha! Audiences flock to certain films not to revel in the (weak) narrative, but to entertain their fantasies about the performers – women drooling and sighing at the sight of male actors who (in real life) may not have the slightest interest in doing them.
And the men are no less susceptible to the charms of a nubile young woman on the big screen – very few are lining up for the, ahem, big-boned, craggy-faced version. They secretly wish that their calorie-crippled significant other could fit into a size two, so they can (finally!) swing them onto the bed or the floor, and get frisky before the anxiety of premature ejaculation ruins the moment. Damn, not again!
We’re in the age of sex as sport – with boasts of “blowing out backs” and “stretching walls” a common part of the conversation – as if a drilling from gargantuan genitals can compensate for weak technique.
Ask your woman, she knows!
So, where to lay the blame for this dearth of on-screen action? Why this dis-ease about the old in and out, in the Black community?
THE HOTTENTOT OFFENSE
The scars of a life-long, second-class existence has damaged the psyche of large swaths of the populace, who resent anything that smacks of being put on display. This harkens back to the early 1800’s when Sara Baartman a slave from South Africa was taken to France, under the guise of being able to make money. Given the catchy name of the Venus Hottentot, she, along with another woman of African descent, were made to parade their posteriors and other body parts, for the entertainment of the locals.
This was a precedent that left a bitter bias in the minds of many. It signaled an unbridled exploitation that dehumanized those who were not in positions of control, and signaled to Black women everywhere that their bodies were objects of derision – something to be covered up and carried in shame.
A century later, the great Josephine Baker blasted this convention to smithereens, wearing nothing more than her now famous banana skirt in a show that left Paris agog. But her notoriety was not without controversy – since some critics (including many colored folks) thought the presentation low-brow – the pairing of a Black woman with phallic fruit was just too obvious an allusion to the savagery so readily attributed to the race.
Black males throughout the history of this country have been accorded the burden of being dangerous beings – criminals and sexual predators who must be dealt with harshly. As late as the middle of the last century, one of the preferred methods of punishment was a public lynching, which often included castration, and the display of that trophy. The underlying, but quite obvious message was that penis envy could get you killed. So, it was best to tuck it in, and keep your eyes lowered.
These social and moral limitations have been passed down to each succeeding generation of Black folk, in varying interpretation. So those who display any tendency to flout convention and show some sexy are given the evil eye – which is usually enough to make them keep their clothes on.
Rebels in our midst, aka strippers, excel at the rippling booty-clap, with their more ambitious colleagues impressing clients with the ability to scoop up dollars with their lower lips. That, and the ubiquitous video ho, you can see on-screen. Sensual, beautifully photographed Black folks getting it on? Hardly.
A BIBLE AND A BJ
The church has long been the most potent source of support for whatever ails the Black community; therefore it has the heaviest influence, as well. It is a double-edged sword, slicing through sin and subversion with equal fervor. We are made to understand in forceful exhortations that anything outside the prescribed norm is not to be tolerated, and that the shame resulting from said straying will envelop you like a hellish pestilence.
But while everyone knows very well that the Bible clearly states that adultery is forbidden, it is indulged in from the pulpit down, with the pastor in some cases scoring multiple gold medals in this exercise. So, while those in the pews might tremble at the thought of “going astray” – it is the ones who profess to lead sinners away from temptation, who are usually deepest in the do – while self-righteously condemning to hell-fire all those who don’t follow the good word.
Keep in mind that this is the very same Bible that was used in the campaign to justify shackling your folks to permanent slavery.
Preachers rail against those who fail to keep to the straight (literally) and narrow. They hold the Bible in one hand, while demanding carnal favors from their congregants, who seem eager to service this child of God. The fear of discovery and the hypocrisy make them prisoner to acts that are definitely not going to curry God’s favor.
In the church, sex is allowed to serve convenience. Preference and the naked body is publically reviled, while in private it is sought with piggish delight – with those that are caught, trotting out trite mea culpas, before diving back into the orgy pit.
There are some (Christians, they call themselves!) who sling chapter and verse at what they view as the impending decay, conveniently forgetting to keep their own crotch covered – and open their mind. Nowhere in the Bible does it indicate that there is a space in Hell (if it does exist) for VIP sins.
Sin is sin.
So the pervert will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the thief and the adulterer – regardless of which transvestite or animal they cheated with. And chances are fairly good that your pastor will be right there to keep you company.
A BRAIN BEHIND BARS
What happens to a mind that’s been in confinement for years, sometimes decades? And how does that affect their interaction with the opposite sex, when they’ve spent so much time in such close proximity to varying levels of criminality?
That’s something to really think about.
The number of men (and a rising number of women) who have been subjected to this experience feed a revolving source of friction and torture within the Black community. Individuals who have been stripped of their personal dignity are bound to have issues related to sexuality, and their role in society.
Their re-insertion within the familial unit lends itself to actions that are fueled by what they have lived, even if they are in a state of denial about the severity of the horrors. Their outright rejection of certain forms of intimacy, while insisting on others, brings a level of complication to personal relationships that is sometimes difficult to overcome.
And what the hell does this have to do with sex in the cinema, you might be asking?
Well, if you are a writer whose influence springs from this deep, dark well, then you can see how that could influence what is on the page. Ditto for a filmmaker with years of being told to spread ‘em and cough, or who has had to engage in fisticuffs to fend off prison love – that will manifest itself in some manner on-screen, especially in the portrayal of interpersonal relationships.
And as a filmgoer, there are subjects that will irritate and stir up emotions that they may not care to explain. Like it or not, we are the sum total of our experiences. They influence our thought process, the choices we make, and the limitations we place on ourselves.
A clear mind is a powerful weapon. But that is a luxury available to a very limited number of people. The rest of us fight internal battles, while trying to put on a brave face. Those for whom the damage runs deep sometimes inflict on others the pain they feel. So, in the end, we all pay the price.
Limitations mental and otherwise, is a form of imprisonment in itself. The inability to understand or accept changing mores or societal expansion will leave you, the frustrated observer, on the sidelines as the world passes you by.
P POWER – YOU GOT IT, USE IT!
Black women have supported more than their fair share of the struggle towards more equitable benefits for the community, often shouldering the load for men who don’t hesitate to display their ingratitude. And while in the past, they were trained to bite their tongue, sistahs in this post-feminist era are learning that they must once again step up and blaze a trail. Even if it means they won’t have a man by their side.
This reality too has an effect on what we see on-screen, with the gold-digger and bitchy witch a regular part of any cast in a Black film. One-dimensional and focused on destroying any man who dares cross her path, she is the invention of vengeful writers and filmmakers who may have felt this burn.
But, ladies, you actually have the power – right where you think it is. So, in the same manner that a Sojourner Truth or a Fannie Lou Hamer lit a fire for freedom, it is within your means to re-fashion and help to banish those negative images. For they are harmful, influencing the way others see you, creating prejudice where there should be understanding.
Support each other, create a movement, and continue on the path towards uplifting us all, one mo’ ‘gain.
Display your inner beauty, the strength you show your man in the dead of night when he lets loose his frustration. The calm you use as a salve to re-assure your child. Show us your sassy, the brilliant one-liners, the flava in your exchanges with your girlfriend. We need to see that on-screen.
And dare to bare your body like the heated weapon it is. Wars have been fought over that temple – men have lost bets and fortunes. Give ‘em three seconds of skin and leave ‘em begging for more!
And, if you’re feeling really powerful, you can convince the men to do it too. Don’t think you’ll have to beg too hard.
F ‘EM IF THEY CAN’T TAKE A STROKE
It’s not that we have to see naked Black bodies on-screen. The issue lies more in the fact that fully formed beings have a sexual quotient, a vital aspect to their lives that is connected to their humanity. To continue to portray us as one-dimensional sub-humans with little emotion or sensuality does us all an injustice.
Filmmakers and writers should not shy away from exploring the full spectrum of their character’s existence – what makes them sad, what makes them smile, their pain and their passion. Those are qualities present in all of us. And they are worthy elements of any well-told narrative.
The not so adventurous among us might do well to heed the wise counsel of veteran funkmeister George Clinton, who, way back in the day offered a simple, yet powerful solution to this dilemma. Free your mind, and your ass will follow!