Blaxploitation Cinema: Pimps and Pushers in Film

There is a fine line between stereo-typing and the honest portrayal of criminals in cinema. Films such as Public Enemy (1931), Goodfellas, and both versions of Scarface (1932 and 1983) are examples of films both under attack and praised for its portrayal of criminals. Brian De Palma’s version of Scarface especially divides audiences and critics as to whether the character of Cuban import Tony Montana is a racial caricature or an honest look at greed and corruption. Blaxploitation cinema’s portrayal of criminals is no different drawing criticism from the African-American community, especially Rev. Jesse Jackson and the NAACP. The pimps and drug pushers in Blaxploitation cinema are considered just the same, walking the line of stereo-type and being socially conscious.

#5 The Candy Tangerine Man (1975)

Written by Mikel Angel

Directed by Matt Cimber

“Your cash ain’t nothin’ but trash.”

The Baron is a Sunset Blvd pimp that pushes his women to support his family in the suburbs. He is the Baron or Mr. B by night and mild-mannered family man, Ron, by day. His Rolls Royce is equipped with enough goofy firepower to be worthy of a Dick Tracy gangster. The character of The Baron is what would be considered today as a “Walter White” character, only he has no qualms about how he earns a living. He beats woman, mows down rivals, and is uses a garbage disposal in an ultra-violent scene that predates Rolling Thunder. It’s star, John Daniels, has made some of Blaxploitation’s sleaziest and most violent films. Just check out Black Shampoo, a film full of unapologetic nudity and it just might be the goriest film in the genre. The Baron is a portrait of a man going to extremes to provide for his family, but his actions come with out personal sacrifices or consequences. If there was ever such a film that glorified the pimp lifestyle, making him a hero, this is it.

#4 Dolemite (1975)

Written Rudy Ray Moore and Jerry Jones

Directed by D’Urville Martin

“I’m gonna let ‘em know Dolemite, is my name, and fuckin’ up motherfuckas is my game!”

Rudy Ray Moore blasts out of the screen as the raunchiest, funniest, and cheesiest pimp in film history, Dolemite! Dolemite (and RR Moore’s films) can only be considered the only thrill rides in Blaxploitation. Weaving between social commentary, kung-fu action, and the hard reality of violence and drug use. Dolemite is released from prison to find the person responsible for both setting him up and for flooding his neighborhood with narcotics. He is set apart from other pimps on the list (and in real life) as he never mistreats or beats the woman working for him. He may use a lot of derogatory language and violence toward the antagonists in the film, but he is a performer, karate-trained, and a man of the people. The community as much as his women love him. A lot of this is farce, but look no further than the character of Creeper to see a honest portrayal of destructive drug addiction. Dolemite is not a well-made film by any stretch of the imagination, the boom mic is present in most of the film, but it makes up for it with slick style, kung-fu action, one of the best funk scores, and a lot of motherfuckin’ swearing. For the further exploits of Rudy Ray Moore and his Dolemite character check out The Human Tornado and Disco Godfather.

#3 Willie Dynamite (1974)

Written by Ron Cutler

Directed by Gilbert Moses

“What am I runnin’ here? You put heat in that hotel and you’ll be back workin’ 8th avenue for nickels!”

Willie Dynamite may just be the most flamboyant, slickest, suavest pimp in film history. His style is the template for everyone from Snoop Dog, Pinky (Friday After Next) and Flyguy (I’m Gonna Git You Sucka). Filmed in fantastic color, Willie Dynamite is the unsympathetic tale of a pimp’s fall from grace. He is a top pimp in New York City, and after refusing to comply with a pimp organization, brutal repercussions against him begin immediately. A social worker, an ex-prostitute herself, tries to make Willie and his top girl, Pashen, understand the only thing to do is quit the life. Both characters learn the hard way, that this is the only option. Unlike most films chronicling pimps, this film honestly depicts the life of prostitution: it’s dirty, violent, and there are no clean breaks. But once one has started this life, how does one get out? Roscoe Orman’s performance of a man desperately clinging to his hollow life, exposes a man of compassion and sincerity who ultimately is running from the economic confines of his childhood.

#2 Superfly (1972)

Written by Phillip Fenty

Directed by Gordon Parks, Jr.

You don’t own me, pig, and no motherfucker tells me when I can split.

Cocaine is “superfly” shit. It runs the streets and makes millions of dollars for the people that push it. Youngblood Priest, one of the most iconic figures in Blaxploitation cinema next to Shaft of Coffy, is a pusher that knows full well that no one lasts forever in this game. He devises a plan to make a last big deal and then exit the life. Ron O’Neal stars as the epitome of the badass dope dealer. He is quiet and introspective, but takes no shit and is ready to scrap at any moment to prove himself. His performance is so startling, at the time of the film’s release many thought O’Neal was himself a real life pusher. Many activists denounced this film as being racially stereo-typing, but despite it’s subject matter the film is relatively non-violent. Gordon Parks, Jr.’s directing skills are in full force here, showing the mean streets of New York at their grimy heights. Set to Curtis Mayfield’s smooth score featuring the great track Pusherman, this is a film about a man that knows all of his choices in life were made through necessity, but is fully aware of how morally compromised his life has become.

#1 The Mack (1973)

Written by Robert J. Poole

Directed by Michael Campus

Listen to me and listen good. I don’t give a shit what happened to you. You hear me? Now get yourself together, get back out there and git me my money!”

After five years of lock-up, a small time crook starts in the pimp racket. Goldie makes it big time in the pimp (or mack) world, attracting attention from the mob, the police, and rivals. The Mack is a film of great social commentary of the early 1970s. The struggle of the black population in the inner-city, and the predators within and outside the community that stand in the way of progress. It illustrates the fine line between criminality and the need to make something of ones self to escape a bad situation. Writer and performer Max Julien and Richard Pryor both helped shape the story. According to IMDb many of the scenarios were relayed to Pryor from individuals he knew that actually lived the street life depicted in the film, especially the scene in which Goldie makes a rival stab himself at gunpoint. This film depicts both the social movement inspired by the actions of Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale, illustrating the opposing ideals of how to escape the ghetto life. Both ideals fall on deaf ears to the other party, but the film makes it clear that violence and exploitation solves nothing. Goldie’s story does not end as badly as Tom Powers in Public Enemy, but the life has chewed him up and spit him out. Has he learned a life-lesson or is he just more street smart? Such is a problem with both the prison system and the cycle of violence. Michael Campus’s film is a portrait of stark reality, showing both the attraction and the detrimental aspects of a life of crime.

- Gregory Day

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By Gregory Day

Gregory is a Boston based film blogger. He has a lifelong love of cinema and pursues a career in screenwriting. He has directed and assistant directed films as well as work for film festivals. He is constantly striving to find what it is that is considered "good" cinema by consuming art, trash, commercial, and indie filmmaking of all styles and genres. His favorite genres of cinema are film noir, horror, western, and crime.

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