Although I would never go out of my way to consider myself an expert in the field, I have been a fan of blaxploitation cinema for many years now. The genre, like many, can be as vast and expansive as you could possibly want to get, but depending on the viewer it can also be a very niche and subjective series of films made within a select period of time. For those of you unaware of blaxploitation as a genre, these are films that essentially feature a black cast during the 1970’s and in some form or another usually feature a theme of black-power or show the plight of urban life. There have been countless films made since the 1970’s that have featured predominately black casts and shot within a "ghetto" environment however, so what is it about these films that we consider "blaxploitation" that makes them so special? Although this isn’t a issue that Mikel J. Koven’s book "Blaxploitation Films" explicitly looks to answer, it is something that the audience should fully understand after reading through his informative introduction to black action films of the seventies. A guide that finds the texture of the genre as well as the walls that surround it, Koven’s work here is commendable in finding the roots of this "genre" and helping define it while also giving detailed and informative opinions on the various films that make up this movement.
Koven’s book, which has been revised by the author to include new events and changed opinions in the years since its original release, is an academic guide to black exploitation that doesn’t talk down to the audience but also does not treat the films in question as surface level pieces of pure entertainment. His book looks to deal with the sociological meaning behind the various films as well as the political aspirations that any number of the movies may have looked to espouse. Koven develops a unique format throughout the book. He opens up each section, which generally covers a select ideal that a group of films might share such as "sticking it to the man" or films where our protagonist may be "working for the man", with a small essay on the importance of that ideal and where it then places our films in relation to the genre and political climate of the time. Koven tackles many issues before and after his reviews, and his thoughts on the boundaries of blaxploitation film are quite interesting. He places an importance on the time and era when these films were released (the early 1970’s), but he isn’t afraid to discuss some newer films that have tried to join in one the genre including The Hebrew Hammer and I’m Gonna Get You Sucka!.
Koven’s biggest editorial comments come when he discusses how fair the title "blaxploitation" really is. I have heard the argument before, as Fred "The Hammer" Williamson and various others often took offense to the term. After all, these were films that often showed positive things about the African American community and they gave black America a chance to fight back against social prejudice in a time when such actions simply were not possible. Also, these were films that gave black actors and actresses a chance at success that they normally would not have had! Koven’s examination of the title is focused, similar to the rest of the book and always remains on-point. The reviews are the true meat of the book here however, as they are what will draw in most readers looking for recommendations and new outlooks on this wild genre. Koven does not disappoint either. Although the book is not a ‘complete’ record of all things blaxploitation, Koven picks out many films that have defined the genre for good and for bad. If you are going to delve into films such as Super Fly and The Mack, then you owe it to the audience to point out the atrociousness of Blackenstein!
Blaxploitation Films is a short read, to be sure, but Koven does well in painting a picture of the genre so that those who are new to the genre can fully get a grasp of the themes and ideas being handled within many of these pictures. His addition to the reviews where he focuses only on the subtext, even in motion pictures such as Welcome Home Brother Charles aka: Soul Vengeance about a genetically engineered black man who in one scene strangles a man with his mutated giant penis, is worth enough reason to pick up the book immediately. At an affordable price, you really can’t go wrong picking up this brilliant examination of the genre that will prove to be an informative affair even for those who are already well versed in the blaxploitation arena. A well written and thought provoking film book, I simply adored Blaxploitation Films and chances are you will as well!