Gordon Parks - Takin' it to a cinema near you.
Gordon Parks – Takin’ it to a cinema near you.

Click on the link here for Audio Player – WNET – Free Time: Black Cinema – Nov. 9, 1971 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection

In 1971 a new genre in Cinema exploded on the scene, and quickly became part of our Popular Culture. It was cinema written by, produced by, directed by and starring predominately African-Americans. The majority of the films were about stories set in the inner-city. They had a gritty realism and they carried a potent message. Their soundtracks were a mixture of Soul, Funk and R&B. They were a huge hit.

The films became part of that genre known as Blaxploitation and they became an established and growing industry by the mid-1970s. Three of the people most responsible for the invention and pioneering of the genre were Gordon Parks, Ossie Davis and Melvin van Peebles. All of whom had established themselves in other areas. Parks was a celebrated photographer, Davis was an award winning Actor and van Peebles was an accomplished writer, artist and musician. Together they opened an entire building’s worth of closed doors and set into motion an atmosphere were new talents were developed and encouraged.

In looking at the development and growth of that new industry in 1971, here is a roundtable discussion on the state of Blacks in Movies in America with Parks, Davis,van Peebles and a separate interview with Butterfly McQueen, who was best known for her role as Prissy in Gone With The Wind, done by Julius Lester for the WNET program Free Time on November 11, 1971.

The interview with McQueen is interesting in the sense it gives a picture of what being an African-American actor was like prior to the 70s. How few roles there were outside of Maid or Stereotype, and what entailed when you fought for something better. No walk in the park, for sure.


Thelma "Butterfly" McQueen - The roles were limited - the talent was not.
Thelma “Butterfly” McQueen – The roles were limited – the talent was not.


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