Master of Arts (M.A.)
Degree Granting Department
Humanities and Cultural Studies
Daniel Belgrad, Ph.D.
Amy Rust, Ph.D.
Todd Jurgess, Ph.D.
1970s American Culture, Black Power, minstrelsy, sexuality, transcoding
Where scholarship exists on the subject of black male hypersexuality in Blaxploitation film, consensus suggests these films perpetuate racist imaginings of black sexuality. This project reevaluates the significance of Blaxploitation’s sexual imagery and argues against the traditional understanding of it. I assert that Blaxploitation’s images of hypersexuality should be understood as revolutionary for the way that they re-appropriate racist images and repurpose them to serve antiracist ends. Specifically, I argue the movement’s most prolific films, Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971) and Shaft (1971), supply the two main strategies employed through Blaxploitation in defining the movement’s revolutionary sexuality: one links Black men’s sexuality to revolutionary politics and calls for disruptive acts of violence against the state while, in the other, sex becomes revolutionary as it acts as a means for changing the way that Black men are perceived and perceive themselves in media. Furthermore, in understanding these two films’ deployments of revolutionary ideology through sex I engage close readings of their interracial sex scenes to explore the ways that the intersections of race, gender, and sexuality inform these subversive images.
My work builds off the research of Ana Kocić who argues that the Blaxploitation movement re-appropriates racist imaginings of blackness and transforms them into empowering depictions. My claims as to what makes the sexual imagery of the films subversive are further supported by the revolutionary philosophies of the Black Power and Black Arts movements. In order to uncover Blaxploitation’s revolutionary sexuality, I also engage Stuart Hall’s concept of transcoding, Linda Williams’s scholarship on interracial lust, and Eric Lott’s work on blackface minstrelsy to explore how Blaxploitation artists create counter-hegemonic semiotics for mainstream audiences. By doing this, my project corrects traditional understanding of black sexuality within Blaxploitation and in doing so also broadens the possibilities for scholarship at the intersections of these topics by exploring ways that transcoded images can be utilized in covert subversive ways.
Scholar Commons Citation
Cook, Austin D., "Blaxploitation’s Revolutionary Sexuality: Rethinking Images of Male Hypersexuality in Sweetback & Shaft" (2019). Graduate Theses and Dissertations.