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Like with most offshoots of the exploitation genre, it can be tricky to reconcile the “exploitation” part of blaxploitation. On the one hand: blaxploitation created an explosion of American cinema dominated by, for, and about communities of color. On the other hand: most of the white-helmed studios overseeing blaxploitation cinema were only interested in making a quick buck, which meant an emphasis on damaging stereotypes.
Nichelle Nichols only starred in one blaxploitation film. After she appeared as a foul-mouthed madam opposite Isaac Hayes in 1974’s Truck Turner, she swore off the genre. For Nichols, the promise of blaxploitation — that it would create opportunities for Black filmmakers to tell stories about Black characters that were multifaceted, human, and complex — wasn’t being fulfilled.
Nichols knows a thing or two about the importance of on-screen representation. Before Truck Turner, she was breaking barriers on Star Trek as Lieutenant Uhura, the most visible Black women on television during the Civil Rights era. In the interview clip below, Nichols describes her role in Black representation on-screen, from her brief stint in blaxploitation to her iconic role as Uhura. Nichols also describes the period of time after Star Trek‘s first season when she considered quitting the show, and how Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. convinced her to stay.
You can watch “Nichelle Nichols – On Blaxploitation and Breaking Barriers” here:
Who made this?
This exclusive clip comes courtesy of Reelblack, founded in 2007 by NYU and AFI alum Michael J. Dennis (The 13th Amendment). Reelblack’s mission is to educate, enlighten, entertain, and empower people through Black film. The above clip comes from the press room at the 2008 East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention and features Nichelle Nichols and journalist Raymond Tyler. you can subscribe to Reelback on YouTube here. And you can follow them on Twitter here.
More Videos Like This
- Here’s a video from the Smithsonian Channel on how Lieutenant Uhura broke barriers on and off-screen
- A clip from Discovery UK on that historic kiss
- There are a bunch of blaxploitation films hosted on Reelblack’s YouTube account, including the 1973 Ron O’Neil crime drama Super Fly T.N.T.
- Baadasssss Cinema, a documentary about blaxploitation that offers a solid introduction to the genre. Fair warning: there are a lot of talking-head clips of Quentin Tarantino being a maniac
- Nichelle Nichols wants you to work on the Space Shuttle Enterprise in this government-produced film from 1977
- Here’s Motion In Art on why 2009’s Black Dynamite is a fantastic parody of the Blaxploitation genre (in an era defined by lackluster parodies)