The 1970s produced the film genre that would become known as ‘Blaxploitation’. These films were made specifically with an urban Black audience in mind. These movies were larger-than-life, action-packed and full of funk and soul music. These films also incorporated progressive social and political commentary. From Pam Grier to Bill Cosby, check out who delved into this genre and what the actors have been doing since the 1970s.
Pam Grier’s fame grew in the 1970s when she starred in several Blaxploitation films like ‘Coffy’ and ‘Foxy Brown’. Grier revitalized her career and paid homage to the ’70s genre in 1997 when she appeared in Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Jackie Brown.’ Her role as Jackie Brown earned her a Golden Globe nod for Best Actress. Grier played Louis Williams in ‘Mars Attacks!’ in 1996 and Carol in ‘Holy Smoke’ in 1999. Grier’s acting resume is extensive and lately she’s hit the television screen. She played Kit Porter on ‘The L Word’ for 5 years and appeared in ‘Smallville’ in 2010.
Richard Roundtree is known as a leading man in many Blaxploitation movies. His private detective role as John Shaft, in the movie ‘Shaft’ in 1971) earned him notoriety and sequels in ‘Shaft’s Big Score’ and ‘Shaft in Africa’. He even starred in a television series dedicated to the character. Roundtree played John Shaft’s uncle in the film interpration of ‘Shaft’ in 2000 and more recently and the character Mr. Shaw on ‘Desperate Housewives’ in 2005. In 2011 he popped up on an episode of ‘The Mentalist,’ though he’s better known for roles in the movies ‘Se7en’ and ‘George of the Jungle.’
Football legend, Jim Brown, is not only known for being one of the greatest players in the NFL, but he was also an integral part of the Blaxploitation genre. Pictured here, Brown played Gunn in ‘Black Gunn’ (1972). The star of the movie, Brown plays an LA nightclub owner who’s after the mob. Brown is known for his role as Robert Jefferson in ‘The Dirty Dozen’ (1967). After the ’70s, he appeared in numerous films like ‘Mars Attacks!’ alongside Pam Grier and ‘Any Given Sunday.’ But he wasn’t the only NFL star to hit the big screen during this decade.
Fred ‘The Hammer’ Williamson starred in ‘Black Caesar’ in 1973, paying homage to previous gangster movies. The former defensive back also hit the big screen in the ’70s with ‘Black Eye’ and ‘MASH.’ In 1973, Williamson posed nude for ‘Playgirl’ magazine. Since his Blaxploitation days, Williamson has continued his acting career. He starred as Nick in ‘Vigilante’ in ’83 and was in ‘From Dust Til Dawn’ in 1996. A well balanced actor, Williamson’s appeared in films like ‘Starsky & Hutch’ and ‘Pushing Daisies.’ He’s also done work on the other side of the camera. He produced and directed ‘Mean Johnny Barrows’ and has gone on to produce over a dozen more films.
Judy Pace starred as Iris in ‘Cotton Comes to Harlem’ (1970). A prominent actress during the decade, Pace has come to be known as one of the most beautiful women to ever appear on screen. After being dubbed the personification of Black Beauty in the ’70s, Pace’s career continued to thrive. She’s been in dozen’s of TV series from ‘Kung Fu’ to ‘Sanford and Son’ to ‘Bewitched.’
Nichelle Nichols popped up during the ’70s in ‘Truck Turner.’ Her career began before this decade, when she played Lt. Uhura on ‘Star Trek.’ She became one of the first black women to be featured in a strong role on a TV series. Her inter-racial kiss with William Shatner’s Captain Kirk character earned her even more notoriety. Since her role- alongside Isaac Hayes in ‘Truck Turner,’ Nichols has continued to act. Recently she was on the series, ‘Heroes’ in the role of Nana Dawson. She’s also been in numerous ‘Star Trek’ spin-offs. Nichols has volunteered time and worked for NASA.
Billy Dee Williams starred in two Blaxploitation films, ‘The Take’ and ‘Hit!’ in the early ’70s. But, he’s most widely known for his role of Lando Calrissian in numerous ‘Star Wars’ installments. In the intense film, ‘Hit!,’ Williams plays a federal agent, out to destroy a drug ring. He is also known for his great work in Lady Sings the Blues and Mohgany starring Diana Ross. Williams played Brady Lloyd in the 80’s series ‘Dynasty’, and has had recurring roles on ‘General Hospital’ and ‘Dairy of a Single Mom.’ He also recently made an appearance on ‘White Collar’.
Trina Parks popped up in the ’70s as an actress with a few roles. Most notably, she played Syreena in ‘Darktown Strutters’ and Thumper in ‘Diamonds are Forever.’ Parks hasn’t acted since the ’70s, but her claim to fame remains the fact that she was the first Black woman to be a Bond Girl. In 2002, she was part of the ‘Bond Girls Are Forever’ TV documentary.
Jim Kelly appeared in a handful of Blaxploitation films in the ’70s. They include ‘Black Belt Jones’ (top l.) and ‘Enter the Dragon’ (bottom l.). In ‘Black Belt,’ Kelly used his martial arts skills to play a Kung Fu expert who kicks apart the Mafia. He became a top martial arts film star of the early ’70s with his distinguishable, funky Afro hairstyle. In ‘Enter the Dragon,’ Kelly appeared alongside Bruce Lee. But his roles since the Blaxploitation days have been limited. Kelly had a small role in the series, ‘Highway to Heaven’ and he popped up in ‘Ultimatum’ in 1994.
Antonio Fargas was a big name back in the Blaxploitation days. He had roles in ‘Cleopatra Jones’ and ‘Foxy Brown.’ Fargas became best known for his role as Huggy Bear in the ‘Starsky and Hutch’ series. He also appeared in two Wayans brothers parodies, ‘I’m Gonna Git You Sucka’ (1988) and ‘Don’t Be a Menance’ (1996). Lately he’s appeared in a recurring role, Doc, on ‘Everybody Hates Chris’ and he’s had one-off roles on series like ‘Brothers’ and ‘Numb3rs.’
Melvin ‘Block’ Van Peebles is a well known director from the ’70s, his most popular film being ‘Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song.’ This movie helped create the Blaxploitation genre.
Melvin Van Peebles is also an actor and has appeared as Elmo in ‘Black, White and Blues’ and on ‘All My Children’ as Melvin Woods. His son is actor Mario Van Peebles, started his acting career in ‘Sweet Sweetback’s.’ The younger Van Peebles appeared in ‘The Cotton Club’ during the 1980’s. He is better known as Malcolm X from ‘Ali’ and Samuel Woods on ‘All My Children.’ In 2003, the father and son teamed up again to produce and star in ‘Baadasssss!’.
Source: Roseanne Salvatore and Partrick Montero at www.nydailynews.com