CRVCCentre for Research in Visual Culture

Superfly (Gordon Parks, Jr., 1972)

Monica Partridge A03
Wednesday 7th June 2023 (16:00-18:30)
Emerging in the immediate aftermath of the fiercest battles of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, the 'blaxploitation' genre sought to change the ways Black characters were represented in American cinema. Confronting a history of racist and (at best) paternalistic portrayals in which Black characters were villains, sidekicks or servants, films like Sweet Sweetback's Badasssss Song (Melvin Van Peebles, 1971) and Shaft (Gordon Parks, 1971) offered images of Black heroism, taking on the white establishment and often emerging victorious. In this respect they were clearly influenced by the Black Power movement of the period. Superfly is no exception, telling the story of Youngblood Priest (Ron O'Neal), a cocaine dealer who wants to go straight. Though enormously successful (thanks in part to its hit soundtrack, Superfly is one of the most profitable films of all time), the film attracted criticism for reinforcing stereotypes of Black men as associated with violence, drugs and crime. However, it remains an important film for providing popular cultural expression of the Black Power movement's critique of the failure of the civil rights movement to deliver economic opportunities for Black Americans. In this respect its resonance with contemporary debates is obvious, from the portrayal of the drugs industry in post-industrial Baltimore in The Wire (2002-2008) to the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement and its demand for racial and economic justice.

Centre for Research in Visual Culture

University of Nottingham
Lakeside Arts Centre
Nottingham, NG7 2RD