What It Is... What It Was : the Black Film Explosion in the 70's in Words and Pictures by Gerald Martinez, Diana Martinez and Andres Chavez
Celebrating Black History Month at the VCU Libraries
Reviewed by David Folmar, CLUAC Member
The book is a subversive statement in itself, masquerading as a book of graphics about the last great age of illustrated movie posters. It is really an examination of the so-called “Blaxploitation” movies of the 70’s and what they meant to the community of filmmakers then and now. The poster art is beautiful in a way that modern poster art for movies is not. It is heroic and informative and showcases the best of the illustrator's art of the period. The book, however, is so much more. It is a collection of interviews with the artists who made the black movies of 70 and the artwork that helped define them.
The interviewees include stars of the period like Pam Grier, Rudy Ray Moore and Isaac Hayes as well as movie makers like modern creative forces Ice-T, Samuel L. Jackson and Quentin Tarantino. They educate they reader about how the black movies of the 70’s were both a breakthrough for the black community and a chance for black actors to get work that let them star inside the Hollywood system. They hold that, far from being simply exploitative of the black community, they were part of a film movement that helped a lagging Hollywood system and proved a breakthrough for the black actors of today like Will Smith and Denzel Washington. The movies themselves also gave voice to a community that previously had no voice, and myths to a people who lacked heroes that were not just imitations of established, white-accepted roles for the black community.