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1 BLAXPLOITATION AS AN APPARATUS FOR FEMALE EMPOWERMENT: HOW PAM By THERESA CAMPBELL A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFIL LMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF MASTER OF ARTS IN MASS COMMUNICATION UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA 2013
2 2013 Theresa Campbell
3 ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I thank my wonderful family and friends for all their support and encouragement! Additionally, I thank my colleagues and fellow graduate students Krissy Birnbrauer, Erica Newport and Anthony Palomba, for helping me we a ther the tumultuous academic storm known as graduate school at the University of Florida. Furthermore I believe that I would have never been able to survive this last year if not for Jody Hedge. Her kind demeanor and unlimited knowledge a nd wisdom kept me pushing to finish. I thank my chair, Dr. Tripp, and committe e members Joanna Cleary and Michael Blachly, for their unwavering support through ou t the thesis process. Finally, I thank m y mentor Deanna Pelfrey, whose focu s on th e betterment and success of her students is a rare and much appreciated quality.
4 TABLE OF CONTENTS page ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ................................ ................................ ................................ .. 3 LIST OF FIGURES ................................ ................................ ................................ .......... 5 ABSTRACT ................................ ................................ ................................ ..................... 6 CHAPTER 1 STATEMENT OF PURPOSE ................................ ................................ .................... 7 Intro duction ................................ ................................ ................................ ............... 7 Purpose of Study ................................ ................................ ................................ .... 10 Literature Review ................................ ................................ ................................ .... 12 Blaxploitation Genre Defined ................................ ................................ ............ 12 Blaxploitation Genre Beginning and End ................................ .......................... 15 ................................ ........................ 16 Familial Roles within Society ................................ ................................ ............ 20 Blaxploitation in Holly wood ................................ ................................ ............... 21 Research Questions ................................ ................................ ............................... 23 Textual Analysis ................................ ................................ ................................ ...... 26 Future Implications ................................ ................................ ................................ .. 28 2 CONTENT AND CHARACTERIZATIONS ................................ .............................. 31 Social Construction of Gender ................................ ................................ ................ 32 Dualistic Oppression in the Family Realm ................................ .............................. 34 3 AUDIENCE PERCEPTION AND RACE RELATIONS ................................ ............ 59 Racist Sentiment ................................ ................................ ................................ ..... 61 Audience Reception ................................ ................................ ................................ 73 4 VIGILANTISM ................................ ................................ ................................ ......... 83 5 CONCLUSION ................................ ................................ ................................ ...... 109 LIST OF REFERENCES ................................ ................................ ............................. 118 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ................................ ................................ .......................... 125
5 LIST OF FIGURE S Figure page 1 1 Characterizations Matrix ................................ ................................ ..................... 29 1 2 Advertisement for Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde analyzed by Kraszewski ........................ 30 1 3 Coffy in action and hyper sexualized ................................ ................................ .. 30 2 1 Coffy film cover ................................ ................................ ................................ ... 57 2 2 Foxy Brown film cover ................................ ................................ ........................ 57 2 3 Sheba, Baby film cover ................................ ................................ ...................... 57 2 4 Coffy sexualized ................................ ................................ ................................ 57 2 5 Foxy in rape scene ................................ ................................ ............................. 58 3 1 Foxy during the rape scene ................................ ................................ ................ 81 3 2 Coffy being accosted ................................ ................................ .......................... 81 3 3 Shark and Sheba ................................ ................................ ................................ 82 4 1 Pam Grier and Antonio Fargas as Foxy and Link ................................ ............. 106 4 2 Fox y grabbing the key with her tongue ................................ ............................ 106 4 3 Sheba kissing Brick ................................ ................................ .......................... 107 4 4 Coffy captive ................................ ................................ ................................ ..... 107 4 5 Coffy pointing a gun at Howard ................................ ................................ ........ 107 4 6 ................................ ................................ .................. 108 4 7 Sheba armed with a gun and wet suit ................................ ............................... 108
6 Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Masters of Arts in Mass Communication BLAXPLOITA TION AS AN APPARATUS FOR FEMALE EMPOWERMENT: HOW PAM By Theresa Campbell August 2013 Chair: Bernell Tripp Major: Mass Communication My study, a combination o f textual and historical analys e s, offers a th orough examination of the over arching themes in three of the most well known female blaxploitation films, Coffy Foxy Brown and Sheba Baby examining the multiple in these films Pam Grier became recognized as the queen of blaxploitation films and one of the earliest black heroines of pop culture. Coffy incorporated typical gen re elements of sex and violence and was a major box office hit Moreover, Grier was casted as its l eading lady and she became the first African American female to headline an action film, a protagonist slot typically dominated by males. The fil m along with its less successful box office follow ups Foxy Brown and Sheba, Baby ended up establishing Grier as an icon of the genre. She sassy, bold and assertive women.
7 CHAPTER 1 STATEMENT OF PURPOSE Introduction new type of film genre known as blaxploitation; a film genre that used all black casts which criticized social and political inequities (Yarbough, 2005). A textual as well as historical analysis of these films is important because it is essential to study predecessors who have challe nged current, oppressive systems and succeeded. This study prov ide s a deeper understanding of racial inequity and sexist notions during the disobedience that transcend into modern times. Through a combination of historical and textual analysis, my study offers insight into the over arching themes in films of a prominent blaxploitation actress ( Coffy, Foxy Brown, and Sheba Baby) in order to recognize and attempt to understand the multiple dynamics of each cha performance. Traditionally, American society has either ignored or mi srepresented African Americans i n film (Bogle, 1994; Chrisman, 2006). Black actors/actresses were characterized (if included at all) under very specific categories of representa tion in f il m For exam ple, the plantation genre, as found in Gone with the Wind (1939), engaged male and female actors of color through stereotypical racist representations. Black actors and actresses performed in limited roles portraying servitude and subjug ation (Blake, 1982; Givens and Monahan, 2005; Holmlund, 2005; Iye, 2006; Sims, 2006; Taylor, 1998; Weaver 2006). Dr. Hal Weaver (2006) capture d the prominence of the plantation genre in American society during the twentieth century:
8 During most of the twentieth century, the tendency of Hollywood and other dominant media around the world was to demean black men, women and children through persistently negative stereotypes. In a further analysis of the argument, film historian Donald Bogle points out the following types of black representation in traditional film: Black adult males never men, only child like and animal like were Uncle Toms (loyal, subservient), Coons (buffoons), or Bucks (big muscled, over sexed vultures, rapists). Black women were Mulattos (tragic) or Mammies (loyal, over sized). Pioneering black actors in the U.S. and U.K. film industries, like Paul Robeson and Canada Lee, tried to change that representation. However, the Plantation Genre film, always under valuing Black humanity, remained the norm (p. 1). A famous and popular film, Gone with the Wind (1939), represents the quintessential plantation genre. The lead black character, played by actress Hattie she was c harged with lifetime servitude to a young white female named Scarlett. Mammy was the caretaker of Scarlett from infancy to adulthood, and she exemplified subservient to her white mistress. The picture, released in 1939, represents an era prior to the Emancipation Proclamation, when slavery was still a large aspect of American households. However, illuminating the main black actress in the film as a slave, when the film was released in a time period after slavery was abolished reveals the dichotomous notions of the early twentieth century, when black women appeared in films only through the depiction of servitude. This reinforced racial stereotypes by propagating the notion of black individuals remaining subservient to whites. By continually depicting black actors/actresses in a realm of service, society created desensitization to an
9 picture history could boast of more black faces carrying mops and pails or lifting pots Additionally, the roles of black male actors were represented through ed a somewhat new style of film narrative, although arguably just as stereotypical for black actors and actresses (Reid, 1993). In fact, author Mark Reid (1993) proposed that while there were many opportunities for white actors and actresses to engage in m ultiple characterizations and genres, that same option was not bestowed on black actors/actresses: Although many white actors and actresses including Marlon Brando, James Dean, Sal Mineo, Natalie Wood, and Anne Francis appeared in fifties pict ures such as The Wild One (Columbia, 1953), Blackboard Jungle (MGM, 1955), and Rebel without a Cause (Warner Brothers, 1955) and portrayed a variety of male and female types, AfricanAmericans were apparently limited to Sidney Poitier. Poitier was t he adultoriented star in No Way Out (Fox, 1950) who, five years later, played a juvenile delinquen t in The Blackboard Jungle The elasticity of Poitier's role and age expresses the paucity of roles for black male leads in American films. His roles were respectable and as sexually antiseptic as a eunuch. Poitier's roles measure the limits of black masculinity (p. 52). Harry Belafonte. Belafonte was the lead black actor in Island in the Sun (1957) which illuminated an inter racial love affair between a black man and a white woman. The film had kissing scenes and yet Belafonte was still not allowed to be portrayed as a sexual, ghly sexual black, male protagonist, Reid argues, was (p. 52). According to Reid (1993), Sidney Poitier was the single black actor who was popular and successful. However, his success was obtained by illuminating the
10 perception of black men as non threatening. While Poitier was not perceived as a buffoon or rapist, he was still limited in his roles and was forced into roles a non threatening, asexual and respectable man. Ad ditionally, even in an adult oriented film portraying a love story, such as Island in the Sun, the industry refused to allow Belafonte to portray a sexual human being. Purpose of Study While the plantation genre was popular in American film industry in the early blaxploitation. This change was spurred by the Civil Rights Movement raising awareness of multifaceted racial inequalities deeply embedded in American society; including t he film industry. As a result, the blaxploitation genre was developed to create an inclusive branch of motion pictures for black Americans (Chrisman, 2006; Kelleher, 1982; Williams, 1984; Yarbough, 2005). This film style provided opportunities to engage i n alternative types of character representations of black men and women. In his book, Toms, coons, mulattoes, mammies and bucks: An interpretative history of blacks in films first published in 1973, African American film historian Donald Bogle identified five basic stereotypical African American film roles: the toadying, genial "tom"; the simple minded and spineless "coon"; the tragic, and usually female, mulatto; the fat, dark skinned "mammy"; and the irrational, hyper sexual male "buck" (Bogle, 2006, 3 18 ). Bogle added a sixth stereotype, the asexual sidekick, in the 1989 second edition of the book. According to Bogle, these characterizations were the only roles available to black actors during the years of silent films until the latter half of the twentie th century.
11 Originally made specifically for an urban black audience, blaxploitation films quickly gained audience appeal that transcended racial and ethnic lines. Los Angeles National Association for the Advancement of Colored People head and former film oriented soundtracks, as well as primarily black casts, blaxploitation films centered on common plots and elemen ts that usually included ethnic slurs and offensive white villains. The films typically included several subtypes of films, such as horror, comedy, action, martial arts, and crime (Bogle, 2006). Th e purpose of m y study was to conduct a thorough examination of the over arching themes in three of the most well known female blaxploitation films, Coffy, Foxy Brown and Sheba Baby to recognize and attempt to understand the multiple dynamics ier became recognized as the queen of blaxploitation films and one of the earliest black heroines of pop culture. Coffy which incorporated the typical genre elements of sex and violence, was a major box office hit, and Grier as its leading lady became the first African American female to headline an action film, a protagonist slot previously held by males. The film, along with its less successful box office follow ups Foxy Brown and Sheba, Baby ended up establishing Grier as an icon of the genre. She grad ually became a bold, assertive women. Figure 1 1 shows the breakdown of t he various themes involved in my study. All three films allow in depth examination of three major themes; the c haracterizations of each heroine, the impact of this new type of hero on audience members, and the promotion of vigilantism as a method of empowerment. In retrospect,
12 Grier noted the significance of her roles in these and other blaxploitation films, explai ning the positive impact on black culture and on the representation of women. Literature Review I examined representative literature most pertinent to my study and identif ied the in U.S. society. The scholarly literature most directly related to female centered blaxploitation films during the latter half of the twentieth century is limi ted primarily to references found within surveys of film history, black characterizations in film, and biographical studies of black actors. Blaxploitation Genre Defined Stephanie Yarbough (2005) defined the blaxploitation genre as follows: The blaxploita tion genre is generally credited with articulating to a certain degree the social political upheaval experienced by America, and particularly its black community, in the 1960s and early 1970s. The Vietnam War, political scandals such as Watergate, governme nt social politics that led to the increased ghettoization of the black underclass, the rapid rise of drug use within the culture and its insidious infiltration into the black community, as well as the backlash on civil rights gains, resulted in increased cynicism among many (p. 169). Yarbough (2005) suggested that the aforementioned cynicism transcended onto the screen in the form o f the blaxploitation genre, which originated with a black director Story of a Three Day Pass (1967), Watermelon Man (1970), and Sweet ng (1971). The male leads for all three films promoted vigilante centered attitudes of refusing to submit to the surrounding oppressive institutions and, instead, exacting revenge by any means necessary. However,
13 idea of blacks empowered to surpass white oppressors regardless of the individuals damaged, destroyed and/or objectified was a very controversial notion (Yarbough, 2005). She also examined female lead roles in the e their male counterparts, these characters also inciting controversy, not through a qualitative film analysis, but through the depiction in advertisements. He argued that blaxploitation advertisements portrayed negative stereotypes of black individuals without associating any positive or contextual tropes to the advertisements: Black nationalist tropes were a hallmark of bl axploitation film discussion to address the way advertisements used black nationalism as a selling point. The ads hardly endorsed the political ideas behind the movement; instead th ey fixated on images of violence and sex associated capitalism and arguments for socialism (p. 57). Essentially, Kraszewski (2002) argued that the Civil Rights Movement was a call f or reform to the racial, sociopolitical and economic barriers disenfranchising black individuals from the perceived normative society. While the Black Panther party and other freedom fighters would use force, hyper sexualization and blaxploitation films as an apparatus of expression fo r the underlying goal of reform the advertisements of many blaxploitation films remained with existing stereotypical notions of black and white individuals without captur ing the point of the expression criticizing racism and capitalism. He concedes that while the Civil Rights Movement and interpretation of the blaxploitation genre and associated advertisements was not monolithic, the portrayals
14 are most indicative of the traditional stereotypes representing black men as rapis ts and buffoons, black women as mammies or hyper sexualized, and white women as socially elite and sexually repressed. To further his argument, Kraszewski (2002) draws on the advertisement for the blaxploitation film Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde ( Figure 1 2 ) starri ng Bernie Casey and Rosalind Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde articulates class life 56): The ads for Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde clearly mark the protagonist as a person who has failed to balance his new class status with obligations to the black lower class. However, the ads also present him as having murdered tw o white women. In this sense, he embodies the gender codes of revolutionary nationalism that promote sexual violence against white women as a way to combat white institutional power. What is particularly fascinating about this is the fact that Henry attack s no white women in the film itself. When Henry becomes Mr. White and goes on killing sprees, he kills only black women (p. 58). While this advertisement could be interpreted in many different ways, Kraszewski argued that the stereotypical notions regardi ng race and gender not only exist but are continually perpetuated through advertisements of films intended to represent resistance to stereotypical notions and oppression. Kraszewski did a good job of analyzing the blaxploitation genre through a new medium by focusing solely on film advertisements. However, it is also necessary to examine film content for context. While advertisements can elicit certain meanings, they are open to interpretation and, regardless of what the advertisement depicted, unable to c apture the entire essence of the film.
15 Blaxploitation Genre Beginning and End Another aspect of blaxploitation to explore is the rapid beginning and subsequent end of the genre as a whole. Randall Clark (2000) addressed the quick success and equally rapid end of the blaxploitation genre. He attributes the abrupt end to a combination of controversy and criticism associated with the films. I took a detailed look thematic conte xt of black empowerment, combined with the rise in the Civil Rights Movement, the formation of the Black Panther Party, and overall examination of race relations within the United States: The blaxploitation films of this period were extremely popular wit h audiences and successful financially as well, but they also were the subject of much criticism from community leaders and the black press. These movies were being made by major Hollywood studios, but on lower budgets than most of their other pictures, an d many critics of blaxploitation films felt the studios were cynically producing violent junk for the African American audience rather than making uplifting films with better production values (p. 279). Robert Chrisman (2006) argued that blaxploitation fi lms originated as a genre specifically designed to entice black audiences by propagating issues not only relevant, but currently in circulation at the time: The blaxploitation film movement had six sources of origin: (1) the precedent of integrationist fi the Hollywood studio system; (3) the Black Power movement; (4) the independent black film movement; (5) the availability of talented black actors and musicians; and (6) the newly discovered profitability of t he urban black film audience (p. 292). According to Chrisman (2006), approximately 150 blaxploitation films were produced during the height of the genre. However, he argued, while only a small number of films were produced, compared to major media conglo merates, the blaxploitation genre created an enormous impact on society. Chrisman examined
16 overarching themes associated with the blaxploitation genre. He argued that the protagonist, whether man or woman, is strong, resilient and a vigilante with extreme family ties. He also suggested a dichotomous America is portrayed in the blaxploitation genre: a privileged, upper Chrisman said this dichotomous America is represented within the context of vigilante responses and the overthrow of the oppressive white individuals. He referenced classic, male blaxploitation protagonists such as football legend and actor extraordinaire Jim Brown, in the unforgettable Black Gun (1972) and Richard Roundtree in Shaft (1971) which grossed over $16 million its first year at the box office (Chrisman, 2006). Apparently, the roles of black men in film changed during the 60s and 70s, as evidenced by popular and financially successful films such as Black Gun and Shaft No longer relegated to the realm of subjugation or perceived as buffoons or rapists, they were shown as strong, dominant and assertive presences. In addit ion to the changing male roles, the blaxploitation genre encouraged black liberation and to protect the people and community they love (Guerrero, 1993; Holmlund, 2005; Liebma n, 2009; Robinson, 1998; Sims, 2006; Weiner, 2009). For example, a quintessential blaxploitation actress, Pam Grier, defied tradition, opened doorways for other actresses and promoted strong, empowered black women. She also redefined the socially construct ed, stereotypical notion of beauty (Sims, 2006, p 17). that the blaxploitation genre became a
17 style of film never seen before. In her b ook, Women of blaxploitation: How the black action film heroine changed American popular culture, (2006) she introduced the notorious voluptuous and beautiful blaxploitation actress Pam Grier. Grier epitomized the blaxploitation genre because at the time, with the prevailing racist and sexist sentiment, very few black women successfully established a recognizable and iconic and 70s were Teresa Graves, Tamara Dobson, Jean ne Belle and Pam Grier. However, Hollywood [there] action genre had been dominated by white male actors until blaxploitation movies were released. Given the historic representation of African American women in cinema, a black actress starring in a genre dominated gave the action heroine a persona that would la ter be used as a model by black men, and black women in the past had differing o exploitative films (Quinn, 2012). In fact, Eithne Quinn (2012) examined the film Coffy from that exact viewpoint, among others. Her essay, From oppositional readers to positional producers: The making of black female herois m in Coffy, explores the different responses of critics and industry controversial nude scenes. film Coffy. She began her analysis by referencing the associations between the women in prison genre with the
18 blaxploitation genre. She said like films highlighting black women in prison, the ed on the stark sexual spectacle of victimized women, yet also on women as central narrative subjects fighting Quinn argued she used this means of exploitation to chang e her current oppressive situation especially regarding film production. on the script and characterizations of Coffy power reg arding the character. Hill argued that because of her childhood experiences and life struggles of abuse and oppression, Grier was able to identify with the script and bring unique insights to her character that could not be known to a white, male director. She added that unlike other prominent black actresses of the time, such as Tamara cters were more relatable to everyday audience s Quinn concluded (2012): derives substantially from production context. Hill fighter or anything like could see herself in there, and she uses her wits and wiles instead of gadgets and technical fighting ability (p. 279). Quinn admitted that there was characte rs are often o bjectified, hyper sexualized, and commoditized as a means of sexual gratification. For example she illuminated pictures of Grier in scantily clad outfits fighting her enemies. However, Grier also represented a way for women who feel powerless to fight back.
19 t Coffy is that her sexual spectacle is the central 3). Essentially, Quinn argued that few, if not only, attributes in t heir control (in this particular case the physical body) as an apparatus to exact vengeance and become empowered. Coffy success and propagate notions of black female empowerment is ar guably one of the most concise, well articulated and innovative research arguments to date. However, she focused only on the production aspect of the film, with little emphasis on audience perception and theoretical aspects associated with prevailing socia l norms of the time. My analysis, while detailed, focuses on the perspective of film critics and production oriented staff. While it does relate the concept of using sexuality to exact vengeance, further in depth analy sis is necessary. M y study aim s to arguments and views one step farther by looking at the themes in Coffy, Foxy Brown, and Sheba, Baby and incorporating an empowering element of hyper sexualization. a nd controversial. While she did successfully break from the traditional roles of black actresses (mainly as mammies), she was initially forced to operate under the white men in control of the film industry and was forced to face on going criticism from the media, activists, the government and her own peers. However, eventually, she was granted some level of artistic control (Quinn, 2012).
20 Familial Roles within Society in society role attitudes since the mid gender roles (or the changing gender roles) in an efficient and thorough manner by referen cing the socially constructed context in which men and women were expected to college students as participants. Thus, they did not examine the opinions of men and women in the general population. Overall, their study was useful to demonstrate the the changing framework of gender roles was irrelevant. However, acknowledgment of a radical c hange fostered by a nationwide movement is essential. Illuminating the 988 gender reversal analysis to determine if the perceived gender reversal was still in effect. In essence, Braun and Scott (2009) argued that the traditional attitudes of men at work and women at home only in the U.S., but also in other countries. Their study was well conceived, and the ability to take it to a global level was impressive. Howeve r, the discussion section was devoid of reason s why the ir res ults are significant to society along with implications for improvement or suggestions for futur e research. However, despi te th is limitat ion in their analysis, the long
21 toward gender equity is irrefutable (Braun and Scott, 2009; Brewster and Padavic, 2000; Eagly and Karau, 1991; Mason and Lu, 1988). Blaxploitation in Hollywoo d While the behind the scenes interaction, or lack thereof, of black actors/actresses is crucial, examining the appropriation of the theme by white industry leaders is necessary. In the article, Whose bleeding whom? Analyzing the cultural flows of blaxpl oitation cinema, then and now (2010). John Semley looked at the resonating genre has been wholly reified within the larger wash ) He forwarded the notion that white film producers applied the blaxploitation genre of the Shaft (2000) and Terminator: Salvation (2009). In support of his argument, Semley compared the original blaxploitation films Sweet Swe and Shaft to current films appropriating some of the broader concepts (vigilantism and refusal to surrender to oppressive circumstances) but marginalizes the political position of the film (a fight against prevailing racist sentime nt). Ultimately, selective re interpretation of the blaxploitation genre created a pop the fight, struggle, and painful steps toward achieving racial equity, which the bla xploitation genre represented: Moreover, a recent (as of this writing) theatrical trailer for the upcoming Terminator: Salvation (2009) sees the futuristic Messiah hero John Conner (Christian Bale) threatening a humanoid robot saying: "You tried killing my mother, you killed my father, you will not kill me," immediately recalling Sweetback's tagline "You bled my momma! You bled my poppa! But you won't bleed me!" Here again the drama of appropriation rears its ugly head, and not just as a shamelessly lifte d catchphrase. That whereas Sweetback was intimidating the oppressive white force of a (then) salient present, Bale's character is addressing a murderous robot in a sci fi future,
22 again signaling that in this epoch of post modern aesthetics and thematic re appropriation, even the most sacrosanct moments of black Americana are fair game for inclusion amongst the larger (white )wash of pop culture, the consequence of their context necessarily evacuated in the process. This is endemic of not only the regime of post modernity, but of the spurious notion of a post Civil Rights America, where it now seems as if the ability of a black man to ascend to the highest office in the nation means that the cultural memory of the collective struggle to get to this point can be coolly effaced (p. 29). day cinema has failed to preserve the integrity of the blaxploitation genre. However, his examination is limited by the fact that he did not examine multiple origina l blaxploitation films. It is not ideal to argue a societal notion of appropriation and marginalization by only referencing two original films compared to two newer films. Also, an enormous issue in the blaxploitationg genre (and Civil Rights Movement) was the role of gender in blaxploitation films and the Civil Rights Movement. Semley fails to mention, even in passing, the importance of the roles women played from a cinematic perspective as well as a social perspective. Therefore, my analysis used the soci Civil Rights Movement as depicted by Semley and furthered the assessment by introducing the gender binary that existed. My study provides a thorough examination of the over arching themes in three of Coffy, Foxy Brown, and Sheba Baby, to recognize and attempt to these films is important because it is essential to study predecessors who have challenged current, oppressive systems and s ucceeded. A deeper understanding of racial inequity, sexist notions and the few, brave activists who fought to change current
23 conditions (through films, speeches, writings and more) allows individuals to use previously successful measures for civil disobed ience in modern times. Research Questions The goal of using historical analysis to examine a film was to understand the social and cultural context when the production was first created to shed light on how the film impacted audiences in various ways over time. To achieve a thorough African American and U.S. culture, I used an historical analysis of the social political xtual analysis of the film. My central analysis relies on a qualitative study of the overarching themes Foxy Brown, Coffy and Sheba Baby. An extensive theoretical framework on the social c onstruction of gender, the dualistic oppression imposed on black women, and the sociopolitical flaws of the first wave feminist movement highlight the prevailing notions in the themes and show ogies. To effectively complete an original textual analysis, it is necessary to form and later answer the following research questions: RQ1: Did Foxy Brown, Coffy and Sheba Baby propagate a notion of empowerment through vigilantism and hyper sexualization ? RQ2: If so, was the notion of empowerment specifically related only to black women? RQ3: Was the resonating ideology constructed in Foxy Brown Coffy and Sheba Baby accepted by the general public? Each of these films is vital to my analysis for differen t reasons. Granted, film contains overlapping themes and rhetoric, but they also bring something unique to the
24 analysis. The revenge themed Coffy blaxploitation film (Sims, 2006). Coffy features a strong, intelligen t female lead who is a capable and experienced nurse, a rare portrayal in the blaxploitation genre and in other mainstream films at the time and features a not yet trendy anti drug message. Up until Coffy Grier had played supporting roles, and it is essential to examine the characteristics, mannerisms, and overall character portrayal of her first role as the star and a heroine. I used Foxy Brown which became a vigilante centered theme, to ck women through an apparatus of love and ende arment in her romantic relationships. Finally, Sheba, Baby with its racist allowed me to explor depth examination of three major themes; characterization of each role, impact on the audience, and the promotion of vigilantism and violence as a solution. When conducting a historical analysis of film, the researcher must use two stages of analysis. The first stage involves examining the film to answer questions related to content (including characterizations), production (background on the storyline, production process, a nd release info), and reception (audience demographics, response, and impact). Content and production include paying particular attention to what appears on the screen, what the audience hears on the sound track, what editing patterns and points of view we re used, and how characterizations are performed. I also noted what messages are conveyed and what symbols and narrative techniques were used to b est communicate these messages. Reception is determined based on the
25 context of the time period in which the f ilm was created, as well as who saw the film and how it was critically reviewed at the time of its release. The second stage of analysis require d using a framework of inquiry, selected e. For purposes of my study, the framework of inquiry was the moving picture as evidence of social and cultural history, which considers film as a representation of the values and belief systems inherent in a particular society. This involve d determining w ha t so cial and cultural values were depicted in the film and how those values correspond ed to existing social and cultural trends of the time period. I examined for any interpretive biases in the s, symbols, or myths. I also noted whether there were perceived attempts to change existing perceptions, values, or beliefs of the viewing society. Because of their cult popularity, all three films in my study are readily available in DVD format or online via streaming or digital downloads. Additional evidence was to the productions, critical reviews of the films, autobiographical information from others connected to the fi lms, and box office and attendance data. thematically promoting certain ideological constructs. Specific aspects of Foxy Brown, Coffy, and Sheba Baby, such as lighting, c characters, interaction with antagonists in each film, hair, makeup, wardrobe, language, facial expressions and the lines of the film, highlight the constructs. An in depth analysis allowed for clear insight into t he background concept and overall themes of the films.
26 Textual Analysis A textual analysis was found appropriate to use be cause as stated by Fursich (2009) media texts present a distinctive discursive moment between encoding and de coding that asks fo r special scholarly engagement While it has also been demonstrated that textual analysis techniques such as critical discourse analysis may not incorporate d iscussion of the means of production or ho w audi ences react to media texts, my study has included these constructs (Philo, 200 7). Previous c ultura l studies ha ve demonstrated that differently from quantitative methods, textual analysis offers a way in which to read data rather than merely collect it and perform statistical analyses (F ursich, 2009) In another respect, this may be known as deconstruction, in which media themes and latent elements are distilled from media te xts for proper analysis against cultural, economic political and social backdrops (Barthes, 1972  ). A researche r may b e able to detect relationships omission s and biases within a text that are not commonly detected by quantitative methods (Furisch, 2009). Textual analysis of the films was developed topically, and the analysis was a comparison based on thematic structure. While some themes intersect, each film had strong support for one theme over the other. Pam Grier was the main character and heroine in three films: Foxy Brown, Coffy and Sheba Baby Each film was assessed characters, black characters, m en and women. These three films offer unique perspectives f or a textual analysis, which in this study may be viewed as the extrapolation of meaning from material being investigated through rigorous background research and theoretical constructs relating to sexism, chauvini sm and dualistic oppression of black women (Chandler, 2002; Fairclough, 2003;
27 screen characters to assess the prominent thematic structure of each film. For example, previous research indicate s the blaxploitation genre revolve d around characterizations of the lead male and female actors as able to overcome oppressive situations. Therefore, the first theme (Chapter 2) involves an in More spec ifically, the analysis examined the gender roles portrayed in each of the three films. For example, if a scene (or multiple scenes) in the film contain ed clips of a hyper sexualized woman, we must examine the possibilities of hyper sexuality representing o ppression or empowerment by asking questions such as, what was the character doing at the time of the hyper sexualized scene? Was it necessary? How did the scene end? The focus of my study remained on Coffy, Foxy Brown, and Sheba Baby characters, hair, costumes, stance, and mannerisms were analyzed. Additionally, the characterizations of male figures in the film were assessed. and identify themselves i After assessing characterization, the second theme analyzed was audience impact, especially regarding race relations. This theme (Chapter 3) takes the characterization assessment one step far ther. Behavior of the characters was relevant to the study, and so were the racial identities and the way each racial identity relate d to and wa s perceived by audiences. Next, I examined data showing box office sales and newspaper articles reflecting white
28 to the blaxploitation genre, as a whole, but Foxy Brown, Coffy and Sheba, Baby specifically. The vigilantism theme was analyzed (Chapter 4) regarding the potential for the society. More specifically, my study examined the driving force behind any noticeable rage and desire to regain control and cause physical harm to oppressors through outreach to comrades who also faced oppression in the past. Finally, I provided an overview of the three films and their dual impact in the midst of the civil rights and feminist movements of the period (Chapter 5). In particular, comparisons were made of the themes prevalent in the three f ilms, as well as the role these films played in propagating or changing existing societal or cultural concepts and films fit into the overall picture of black centric f ilm history. I also considered how blaxploitation films in general, and specifically those involving a strong female lead character, hinted at a change in the status of African Americans and women in twentieth century films. Future Implications My study ra ises awareness of the social and cultural import of a previously marginalized film genre through use of historical context. The blaxploitation genre represented innovation, intrigue, and inspiration. Pam Grier, and other actors before and after, fought thr ough multiple layers of oppression and embraced an ideology of racial and gender equity to become empowered individuals. However, this notion was not universally recognized, accepted, or appreciated. A close examination of box office sales show the demogra phics of the individuals who saw the films and answer
29 questions as, d id the majority of the audience fit the demographics in the film? What was the reaction of the public? P revious research indicates that blaxploitation films attracted movie theater audiences who were young, black adults who fit the demographic in the films (Clark, 2000; Kraszewski, 2002; Quinn, 2012; Yarbough, 2005). If correct, this fact shows how empowerment through violent means when necessary resonated with t he younger black generation. It is important to remain aware of the oppression that once existed, and arguably still does through alternative manifestations, in order to fight against current oppressive situations and give the underrepresented and disenfr anchised members of society a resonating voice Figure 1 1. Characterizations Matri x
30 Figure 1 2 Advertisement for Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde analyzed by Kraszewski Figure 1 3 Coffy in action and hyper sexualized
31 CHAPTER 2 CONTENT AND CHARACTERIZATIONS Characterizations in films can contribute enormous meaning s to the plot and construct. The blaxploitation genre has been characterized as an apparatus for black individuals to fight for the respect and equity not prevalent in American society because of the resonating racist ideology ( La Rue, 1970; Reid, 1993; S ims, 2006; Taylor, 1998; Weaver, 2006). Characterizations allow for a deeper understanding into the ways respect and equity are appropriated in the context of the film. Previous research indicates the blaxploitation genre revolved around characterizations of lead male and female actors as able to overcome oppressive situations (Alderman et al. 2013; Cheddie, 2010; Clark, 2000; Sims, 2006). One way the blaxploitation genre promoted empowerment was through the self declared independence and heroism of leading black characters as depicted in the Weiner, 2009; Yarbough, 2005). For example, in Coffy, Foxy Brown and Sheba, Baby ne way or another. However, once someone her characters loved was irreparably harmed, her characters took action, demanding revenge and doling out horror with her own hands. An examination of film content allows exploration of the characterizations as a cr itique of traditional and socially constructed gender roles and the hyper sexuality of the female character as an apparatus for empowerment. depth analysis of the social const ruction of gender theory from 1949 until (and through)
32 promotional items used to market the films, specifically the film covers. Visual elements can have a strong effect on audien ce appeal or audience abhorrence. After examining the visual aspect of the films, I structured the prominent theme songs used in determining elements of foreshadowing, irony, objectification, or exultation. Then, I defined the hyper racters will be defined and analyzed. Finally, I deconstructed individual elements of each film to determine the overall characterizations. While some themes (hyprsexuality, revenge) overlap in all three films, each film has one particular theme that domin ates. Social Construction of Gender To gain a firm grasp of the progressive and ground breaking attributes associated with Pam Grier and the blaxploitation genre, a theoretical framework was needed. Founding feminist theorists, such as Simone De Beauvoir a nd Judith Butler, argued that gender has been socially constructed in relegating men and women to counterparts. One concept, biological determinism, has transcended generations with the notion that biology is the fundamental determination of how individuals should behave and what roles they should play. For example, a long standing social construction of gender roles involves men hunting/gathering, working, paying the bills, im pregnating women, and leading the household; whereas, women should remain pliable, submissive, domesticated, and a source of care for children (Cheddie, 2010; De Beauvoir, 1949; Kelland, 2011; Goffman, 1964; Goffman, 1977; Hill Collins, 1998). However, D e Beauvoir vehemently opposed the concept of biological determinism:
33 The two sexes represent two diverse aspects of the life of the species. The difference between them is not, as has been claimed, that between activity and passivity; for the nucleus of t he egg is active and moreover the development of the embryo is an active, living process, not a mechanical unfolding. It would be too simple to define the difference as that between change and permanence: for the sperm can create only because its vitality is maintained in the fertilized egg, and the egg can persist only through Beauvoir, 1949, Book 1: Facts and myths Part 1: Destiny). De Beauvoir recognized that men and women are bio logically different and argued that those differences do not equal gender superiority (or, alternatively, inferiority) to another. Through the socially constructed linkage of femininity with passivity and domesticity, women have been oppressed and consider traditional ideology that resonates with a heteronormative, male dominated society in which women are looked on as second to their male counterparts. According to De Beauvoir (1949): The enslavement of the female to the species and th e limitations of her various powers are extremely important facts; the body of woman is one of the essential elements in her situation in the world. But that body is not enough to define her as woman; there is no true living reality except as manifested by the conscious individual through activities and in the bosom of a society. Biology is not enough to give an answer to the question that is before us: why is woman the Other?...we are concerned to find out what eauvoir, 1949, Book 1: Facts and myths Part 1: Destiny). constructed ideology pervading American society in n1949 when her book, The second sex, was published. However, her ideolog y transcended barriers of time and social
34 Dualistic Oppression in the Family Realm farther when s he examined a specific form of gender construction resulting in oppression. Hill Collins delved into the dualistic oppression imposed on black women. Not only were they considered inferior to men by society as a whole, but there was an intersectionality of oppression within the family realm. This particular form of oppression is latent but powerful. The matriarchal figure appears to be the leader when males are and age mutua lly construct one another; mothers comply with fathers, sisters defer to brothers, all with the understanding that boys submit to maternal authority until they Hill Collins said that this type of role formation provokes not only unfa ir gender hierarchies, but reinforces this notion to appear normal to the family unit: Families are expected to socialize their members into an appropriate set assumed unity of inte rests symbolized by the family and lay the foundation place in hierarchies of race, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, nation and social class in their families of origin. At the same ti me, they learn to view such hierarchies as natural social arrangements, as compared to socially constructed ones (p. 64). Hill Collins probed into the way this familiar hierarchical construction is arranged and argued that women, and especially black wom en, face oppression on multiple levels. One level of oppression is by society as a whole, followed by the husbands who are deemed leaders of the household by arbitrary and antiquated socially constructed laws of biological determinism; and the sons who onc e respected and deferred to the
35 will of their mothers begin demanding control and dominance, once they reach a certain age. It is important to understand the gender hierarchical structure of society at the scre en character in Coffy Coffy is looked down upon and degraded by the white characters, not only for being black, but for being a black woman. This illustrates the expectation that women in the film, more specifically black women, were regarded as inferior Therefore, insulting, abusing, and oppressing racist and sexist ideals and the at home domestic ideology of men situated as the dominant, all powerful leader was criticized by multiple scholars and activists including Angela Davis, Patricia Hill Collins, Clayborne Carson and others (Cheddie, 2010; 2007, Taylor, 2005). However, Grier criticizes the gender binary by using film as an apparatus to send a powerful message. Coffy the message of female empowerment resonated throughout the entire film. Before a film analysis of the characterizations can effectively posture specific themes, it is necessary to examine the environment in which society operated. More need to be defined and contextualized. Consequently, t his time period showed what is arguably the pinnacle of female empowerment and pro feminist ideological frameworks (Braun and Scott, 2009; Brewster and Padavic, 2000; Eagly and Karau, 1991; Mason and Lu, 1988).
36 What became known as the second wave of femi nism began in the 1960s and continued into the last decade of the twentieth century. With a backdrop of anti war student protests, the Civil Rights Movements, and a growing sense of self awareness by numerous minority groups, the second wave was increasin gly more radical than the first movement of the previous century. Sexuality and reproductive rights were dominant Feminine Mystique and passage of the Equal Rights Amendment to guarantee social equal ity regardless of sex (Thompson, 2002). After feminist protests against the Miss America pageant in 1968 and 1969, the movement began to associate the subjugation of women with broader critiques of a patriarchal social system, normative heterosexuality, an d the woman's role as wife and mother. Although white, middle class women dominated the previous, nineteenth century movement, the new wave of feminists readily welcomed women of color in the Americas, as well as in developing countries. Many of these earl y feminist protests adopted the forthright and courageous approach of other 1960s social struggles that dared to contradict the policies of the older generation. Meanwhile, younger women recognized the varied and newly revealed possibilities for action and activism that railed against traditionally defined domestic, social, and political roles (Thompson, 2002). reasoned that black feminist organizing, as well as the feminist organizing of Latina, Asian, and Native American women, coincided with this rapidly expanding second wave of white feminist activism. Younger antiracist white feminists who took part in this
37 nd gender Many antiracist feminists who had helped to build the largely women led cultural institutions that left a paper trail of multiracial feminism moved on, into mixed gender, multiracial grassroots or ganizations, working against the Klan, in support of affirmative action and immigrant rights, and against police brutality and the prison industry. It is in these institutions that much of the hard work continues -in recognizing that "sisterhood is power ful" only when it is worked for and not assumed and that the "personal is political" only to the extent that one's politics go way beyond the confines of one's own individual experience (p.). Similarly, an initial study by Mason and Lu (1988) examined var ying attitudes direction of change in gender role attitudes since the mid 40). My study is relevant because it is necessary to define the so cial construction of ement. Ronald conservative activist movement saying women belonged in the home were all considered factors in the perceived declining attitude change toward gender equity. However Mason and Lu (1988) concluded the following: although gender role attitudes are formed or reinforced through participation in social groups that endorse or reject the traditional gender based division of labor, individual viewpoints toward that division of labor also reflect its personal benefits (or, in the case of men, its benefits to mothers, wives, sisters and daughters) (p. 54). women demanding a new set of standard s for gender equity that, with the help of a few
38 brave and determined women, permanently changed the conceptualization of women at home and in the workplace (Mason and Lu, 1988). Individual voices combined to make change can also be linked to Pam Grier. I show how one woman used motion pictures as an apparatus to oppose oppression, fight for equality, and demand to have her voice heard both on screen and off. reversal analysis to determine whethe r the perceived gender reversal was still in effect. In essence, Braun and Scott (2009) argued that the traditional attitudes of men at work and women global, through the Inte rnational Social Survey Program (ISSP) module and incorporated countries such as Austria, West Germany, Great Britain, the U.S., Ireland, series for gender role attitudes a m ore egalitarian trend could be demonstrated to 366). The roar made during the initial feminist movement is of paramount importance unique way. The niche genre of blaxploitation offered a feminist voice through the fema le heroines, but also a call for racial reform, something lacking in the mainstream feminist movement (Hill Collins, 1991; Lumsden, 2009; Maguire, 2010). Metaphorically speaking, Pam Grier did not simply jump on the feminist bandwagon; she jumped in front took the reins, and went in a new direction.
39 Grier as heroine is aptly illustrated on retail film covers. Behavioral researchers Spiegel and Machotka demonstrated how nonverbal gestures that radiate outwardly from the body generate corresponding diverse meanings for viewers. They determined that the position of the arms, body, and head, as well as eye contact, elevation, and intimacy, hostility, direction of action, Coffy Foxy Brown and Sheba, Baby portray a serious, assertive woman in charge of her own destiny. Each cover portrays Grier as serious, by her facial expressions. She may have a slight smile, but not a smile that would instill trust. The mischievous smile seems to foreshadow potential trouble. Also, her body stance in all three film covers shows a woman in charge (Schwartz, Tes ser, and Powell, 1982). On the Coffy cover, she holds a gun under her chin, and on Foxy Brown her figure perches above all other characters (Figures 2 1 and 2 2). However, on the cover of Sheba, Baby little insight into the plot, design, and construction of the film. If the audience wants to understand anything else about the character Sheba Shayne, the picture reveals nothing beyond her haughtiness as she gazes into the eyes of the viewer. In Sheba, Baby, Grier rep resents a woman in charge in the plot of the film, and also on the cover (Figure 2 3). As argued by Kraszewski (2002), the visual elements of film promotion are scant ily clad with sexual undertones highlighting certain features. In essence, her body
40 features serve as the focal point of the photos. For example, the photo lighting on Coffy highlights her low cut neckline, illuminating her voluptuous breasts. In Foxy Brow n, her long, slender legs span most of the cover, and are juxtaposed to her tiny waist and ample breasts. Her body is situated to appear strong, resilient, and capable of using sexuality as a tool of empowerment. For example, in all three film covers, her straight posture, chin held high, and conspicuous image dominate the scene. In Coffy, Grier holds the gun commandingly as she simpers at the camera. In Foxy Brown, she sits with her back ram rod straight, and her left leg appears to be stomping on the othe r, smaller images. In Sheba, Baby roaring flames blaze behind her, and her upraised hand freezes in the act of brushing off her fur coat (or pulling it closer around her bare shoulders) to indicate finality and the recognition of a job well done. The fil m covers portray a strong, assertive woman, andthe theme songs signified the forceful role Pam Grier depicted. The theme songs, with their funk based composition and hip lyrics, essentially set the tone of the films. For example, the theme song in Coffy is not soft and smooth with an accompanying angelic voice indicative of a t he image the movie conveys (Ayers, 1973). Comparatively, Willie Hutch used similar lyrics to sing the theme song of Foxy Brown sy title, and by the contrast of physical appearance versus actual behavior (Hutch, 1996). In Sheba, Baby the Monk
41 1975). These lyrics also show the contradiction in societal expectations versus the The film cover and theme songs allow for a deeper understanding of the content i nside the covers. All three films exemplify the notion of unwavering courage and defiance projected through the exploitation of hyper sexuality as a means of empowerment for a woman to distract her prey and use deliberate violence to exact revenge and achie ve justice. Female empowerment is an evident theme in Coffy. Released in 1973 (Hill, 1973), the beginning scene of Coffy without the financial means to obtain drugs. Instead, she insists she will perform any seemingly vulnerable position and takes her to an apartment. Once she and the dealers fe, you Coffy dealer provided. Coffy exacts revenge for her sister ( Coffy 1973). s desire for revenge is highlighted by her powerful demeanor and quickness to engage in physical altercations with both women and men. Throughout the film, Coffy continually struggles against both male (drug lords and distributors) and female (weak and/or jealous) villains. In her quest to destroy the entire drug operation of King George, a well known pimp and drug dealer, she gains the opportunity to eliminate another drug dealer named Vitrioni, who has a violent sexual fascination in which he
42 enjoys domin woman is characterized as having dark skin, originating from a different country, and possessing a confidence that Vitrioni feels he can break. The confrontation between Coffy and Vitr ioni begins when he experiences a surge of power as he throws her on the floor, spits on her, and orders her to crawl to him and beg for sex. Refusing to take part in his sexual antics, Coffy pulls out a gun, points it straight at Vitrioni, and assumes a dominant standing position. By so doing, she refuses to be submissive and shows she will not allow anyone, including Vitrioni, to force her into degradation ( Coffy 1973). In two distinctly different scenes, Coffy engages in similar physical combat with f emales. In the first instance, Coffy seeks out Priscilla, the ex girlfriend of King George, under the guise of joining the prostitution ring, secretly hoping to gather information that would help obliterate his drug operation. Uncomfortable with the conver sation, Priscilla attacks Coffy with a knife. To thwart being stabbed, Coffy breaks a bottle and warns, Coffy 1973). She easily dominates Priscilla by rushing over and knocking the knife out of her hand. Coffy then throws Priscilla on the bed and crawls on top of her as an additional threat if she fails to provide Coffy with all the necessary information. g irlfriend, who attacks in a jealous rage. Coffy retaliates, and a fight erupts between encounters by street fighting, which involves punching, slapping and rolling around o n the floor, as opposed to using martial arts. Coffy also strategically places razor blades in her afro to cut the hands of anyone trying to grab her hair ( Coffy 1973).
43 The female dynamic in this film portrays Coffy as a role model to other women who are not afraid to struggle and fight even against obstacles created by their own gender. The juxtaposition of Coffy with other women allows the audience to see hardships endured, altercations encountered, and people eliminated in order to obtain revenge. Cof other women is unique because it highlights the conflicts among women. Instead of presenting the notion of solidarity, the film positions most of the other women in the film as enemies and the antithesis of empowerment. For example, the altercation with King girlfriend defines Coffy as free to do as she pleases and to go wherever she wan ts, while also outlining the parameters by which she will operate. By contrast, girlfriend, has simply traded one pimp for another; her current lesbian lover is also her pimp. Coffy positions herself assertively, and she is able to take control of a potentially harmful situation. She is not afraid, because she believes justice is on her side. Additionally, the fight with the white prostitutes during the party is indicative of s to systematically defeat each and every woman who attacks her. Coffy represents a woman who refuses to submit to anyone, making her superior to both genders. This sends a message to other women that power is realistically within their grasp, regardless o f the gender of the oppressor; they just have to take it. In comparison, while notions of female empowerment abound, the main theme in Foxy Brown is revenge, and Pam Grier forwards a progressive notion. She asserts her
44 independence as a strong black woman by obtaining justice and fighting for equality by beginning hospital scene in which Foxy and various members of the police department discuss the dealings of a semi terror ist drug organization becoming problematic to the point of eviscerating the local town. The police officers in the room (one of them, her boyfriend Dalton Ford) are ending a sting operation in which undercover officers had joined the local drug cartel. Aft er Ford is shot by the drug cartel, the government puts an end to the operation to use a more diplomatic approach ( Foxy Brown 1974). The changing approach results from fear of the power this drug organization has over the community because of the recent increase in corrupt police officials and politicians. The policemen who chose not to engage in corruption feel the weight of being outnumbered and believe the best reaction is not to take any action. On hearing handle those smart ass goons is with a bullet in the gut -the way they tried to get him Foxy Brown 1974). take over the t hospital, Foxy learns that these criminals will not hesitate to use violence to obtain anything they want (drugs, money, power, etc.). Foxy does not believe that simply disassociating from the drug organization is an acceptable plan and, instead, advocates for action. She advocates shooting the criminals because she wants the tyranny to end ( Foxy Brown 1974).
45 While initially, Foxy appears to exude the same measure of extremism as the character s she seeks to eliminate, the important distinction between Foxy and the antagonists in the film is that Foxy believes in the embodiment of a lifestyle free of drugs and illegally obtained money and power. Her vigilante perspective does not promote violenc e as a way of life but sees violence as a means to take back the life, for which she yearns. She will embrace violence to exact vengeance that will establish peace. This can be observed in the scene in which she and Ford are leaving the hospital. They enc ounter an altercation resulting in a single, black drug dealer being removed from the streets by concerned, black members of the community who have organized a group of men assigned the task of bringing order to the town, despite law y. A subtle undertone of violence foreshadows Foxy in this scene when she aids in the capture of the drug dealer by pushing garbage cans in front of him and foiling his escape attempt ( Foxy Brown 1974). After the initial ordeal and the capture of the dru neighborhood committee member, speak about the best way to handle the on going drug problem. Oscar suggests the only way to deter and eventually stop the current drug problem permeating the town is by forcefully removing all d rug dealers through whatever (violent) means necessary. Once Oscar leaves the scene, Ford turns to Foxy and questions if vigilantism is the best method for handling a downward spiraling drug Foxy Brown 1974) suggesting that violence as the only way to handle this growing epidemic of drug solicitation. If not properly dealt with, the violence inducing drug problem will erupt into an overbearing, authoritatively oppressive society in America.
46 ions of political assertion of humanity and equality are established from the beginning. However, as the film progresses, her political notions are a byline to her personal story of triumph. She epitomizes a woman risking everything to change her current o ppressive surroundings and to earn the right to embrace a lifestyle controlled by no one else. Her on screen capabilities represent empowerment that can be mirrored by other women off screen. The film continues with vengeful drug dealers brutally murdering Ford. After his death, Foxy decides to exact justice for the loss of her love by decimating the drug organization responsible for the murder. She begins her quest by confronting her traitorous brother Link, after she realizes he was the one who revealed whereabouts to the organization. She finds Link, shoots him in the ear for his betrayal, and threatens to kill him if he does not disclose the names of the individuals who egin her pursuit of the drug lords ( Foxy Brown 1974). Foxy Brown 1974). This comment positions Foxy as a powerful woman no one would want to betray or hurt, because the conse quence would be disastrous. She is terror does not reach her. Instead, she takes on injustice with brute force and endeavors to right the wrongs. on, Foxy devises a plan to destroy the two main leaders of the drug organization. The first villain, Katherine Wall, manages a modeling agency that simultaneously serves as a brothel and a front to the reigning drug cartel. Her
47 partner, a white man (Steve Elias), is concerned only with the amount of money to be made through various illegal enterprises ( Foxy Brown 1974). To learn the weaknesses of the organization, Foxy becomes involved with the leaders. She joins the prostitution ring, to gain direct acces s to the leaders and destroy the entire drug organization from the inside. examine the previously mentioned hospital scene in which the police officers chose to give up their attempt to eliminate th e drug cartel, because they believed a mission of that magnitude was too courage and determination to give the villains a taste of their own medicine, and then some. She d oes not fear becoming integrated into the operation or fear the potential dangers associated with constantly being around drugs, prostitution rings, or dangerous people. Her focus remains on the objective of destroying the drug operation ( Foxy Brown 1974) Contrary to the notion of remaining subservient to a man, Foxy asserts independence, self reliance, and perseverance as a means of obtaining success in way the male police officers had tried, failed, and fled) positions Foxy as an empowered woman who can succeed where men failed. Foxy goes back to her friends in the community and requests their he lp in bringing down the organization that tried to torture and kill her the same organization that murdered her love and is pushing drugs in the neighborhood:
48 It could be your brother too, or your sister or your children. I want justice for all of them And I want justice for all the other people whose lives are bought and sold so that a few big shots can climb up on their backs and laugh at the law and laugh at human decency. And most of all, I want justice for a good man. This man had love in his hea rt and he died because he went out of his neighborhood to try to do what he thought was right (Foxy Brown, 1974). what Brown, 1974). fundamental ideals from the start of the film. She says her intention is not to usurp the powerful drug dealers so she can take over the organization. Her main objective is not even to exact revenge for the death of the man she loved and the abusive treatment of herself and others. She wants to rid the world of the activities that constantly terrorize the city streets ( Foxy Brown lence to become a means of oppression, but an option for righting the wrongs cast on the people. She wants to remove the illegal organization that uses violence as a means to oppress so that justice, democracy, and government can prevail. Cedric Robinson a society in which the rule of law and social civility were merely superficial veneers, a world in which the quest for civil rights was at best a nave self delusion, the Bad Black elf one, submerse herself in a violent operation, and not only survive, but escape to return
49 an d dominate. She represents a strong black woman willing to stand up and fight for what she believes in. Additionally, she incites the masses and organizes a mission that ultimately prevails. Her ability to create unity amid chaos is powerful. The film conc ludes with the demise of the drug traffic operation. Foxy and her supporters capture and castrate Steve Elias, and Foxy delivers his severed appendage to Katherine. As Katherine wails uncontrollably and begs for death because of the fate of her beloved Ste ve, Foxy says, maybe you will get to feel what I feel. Death is too easy for you, Bitch! I want you to Foxy Brown 1974). ose tenacity enables survival in encompassing bravery serves as a beacon of hope for black women. She rmodels an idealization of empowerment, a way for black women to fight any system/group/indivi dual threatening oppression. Foxy Brown contains many violent scenes illuminating the revenge theme by imploring the audience to look for ways to change the oppressive system for a better world that does not torture, abuse, or denigrate black women. Instea d, the film promotes a message that women hold the power to assert themselves and gain agency over their community, homes, and bodies. While the theme of female empowerment is present in Foxy Brown it is ; for example, when Foxy helps prevent his getaway. This scene highlights a group of men failing to stop the escape
50 attempt. At the exact moment the drug dealer would have escaped, Foxy steps in and saves the recapture almost effortlessly, which establishes her as an important and powerful figure ( Foxy Brown 1974). She is capable of accomplishing a specific goal efficiently and more effectively than her male counterpar ts. a message about female agency and self awareness and protection. Foxy helps a organization remove a drug dealer by turning over trash cans; other women too can take simple and brave action to effect change. This scene also fosters the notion that social change is promoted through violent measures during a time of violent discourse. The only wa y to gain equality and respect is by refusing to accept social restrictions and by imposing change the same way the oppression is being dealt, through violence. Sheba, Baby also contains a resonating notion of vigilantism and violence. Sheba works as a private detective in Chicago. She leaves to visit her father in Louisville, Kentucky, because he is having trouble with thugs who work for a fraudulent not going to avoid a fight because she is a woman ( Sheba, Baby 1975). Sheba has every intention of overcoming the criminals and does not consider her gender a handicap. In one instance, Sheba is arguing with Brick, her love interest, about using violence to retaliate against Pilot, the leader of the drug cartel: Brick: I understand that. But you can't handle it by street fighting for Chrissakes. Sheba: Well who said anything about street fighting? Do I look like a street fighter? I'm going to handle this the best way I can. You still think everything can be solved by logic. These people don't even know what logic means. They don't know how to spell logic. They shoot first and talk later.
51 I don't want you to go out there and get your goddamned brains blown out!! We've got to find a better way! Sheba: Then you find it! (Sheba, Baby, 1975). Sheba wants to fight the enemy the same way she is getting attacked with violence. And that is exactly what she does. She proactively goes after Shark, the villain, with a vengeance and does not stop even when she is physically assaulted. When she encounters Pilot and his cohorts, she has a gun and returns fire. However, she also uses hand to hand combat in volving punches, kicks, and slaps, which resonates with the female audience ( Sheba, Baby to hand combat shows it is not necessary to know kung fu or have a gun to stop an assailant, but one must be willing to fight. The violent undert ones in the film escalate as Sheba continues to investigate; and the longer Sheba stays to investigate, the more her father, Andy, suffers. One thug plants a bomb in the car she is driving, and she avoids obliteration only because Andy and Brick drag her o ut of the car just in time. The close call starts an argument between Sheba and Brick: Brick: Listen I want to tell you something. You know that private detective badge you carry? Now that is not a warrant to arrest anybody with. And second of all, we'r e not equipped to fight a bunch like that. Not on their terms. Sheba: Well, that's the only way to fight them is on their terms. We'll just have to bend the law. This is dad's life we're talking about. (Sheba, Baby, 1975). foreshadowing his impending death and her emotional responses. In Coffy and Foxy
52 sister). In both films, her characters are po rtrayed from a non emotional perspective, and her loss of loved ones is mentioned/seen only in passing. In contrast, Sheba, Baby has an emotional element interwoven throughout the film. First, she leaves her home and work in Chicago to take care of her fat her because she wants to fight to protect him. When thugs kill her father and shoot up his business, Sheba pulls out her gun to fight back (Sheba, Baby, 1975). What is most interesting about this scene is she has the perfect opportunity to kill the last th health. While he is in the hospital she talks to him while he is unconscious, holds his hand, and weeps uncontrollably when he dies (Sheba, Baby, 1975). Another interesting aspec sexualization of women. For the purpose of my study, hyper sexualization refers to a woman positioned feature. Usually, this happ ens in a situation in which the male villain is fully clothed. For example, the hyper which she is fighting back. In Coffy, most of the women in the film, but especially Coffy, are hyper sexu alized, since the entire film revolves around Coffy posing as a prostitute (Figure 2 4). She is consistently dressed in revealing clothing, with her abundant cleavage highlighted; and in one scene, she is completely topless. However, in many pivotal and cl imatic scenes, Coffy is situated in a sexually explicit way she uses to her advantage (Coffy, 1973). The film shows a woman being abused, but by embracing her sexuality, she not only overcomes the oppressors, but prevails.
53 One can argue that the hyper sexua lization in Coffy was necessary to the development of the film. Since the plot shows Coffy posing as a prostitute, removing the sexual realism associated with the character would be inappropriate. The purpose of the hyper sexualization element in Coffy was not to show a woman oppressed by nakedness, but to show a woman who knew she could overcome oppressive circumstances by using her body as a distraction to catch her assailant off guard. The concept of hyper sexualization parallels the portrayal of male g ender roles in Coffy who wishes to keep woman as a sexual tool (Dagbovie, 2007; Mendieta, 2007). He enjoys his relationship with Coffy as long as the relationship remains relegate d to shallow sexual encounters. As soon as she becomes involved in his practice, with a judgmental and point of encouraging her death to save himself. If he cannot ha ve her quiet and submissive, then he does not want her at all. Coffy refuses to accept those conditions and breaks the tradition. She asserts herself, survives murder to exact revenge, and shows she is not a woman to remain in the background. She breaks tr aditional notions of subservience associated with both white oppression and black male oppression ( Coffy 1973). Coffy, as a part of the blaxploitation genre, allowed new opportunities for black female actresses. This genre encourages abandonment of tradit ional servitude/subjugation ideology and advances the notion of strength through sexual empowerment and engaging in aggressive behavior when necessary (Holmlund, 2005;
54 asserting onscreen personas are believable because of the underlying sense of reality associated with her blaxploitation film characters. screen characters exerting extreme and often violent responses to unjust circumstances. The vigilante centered attitude her characters depicted represents a model for female empowerment, especially for black women. Comparatively, the film Foxy Brown forwards a notion of female empowerment he death of her boyfriend, the social injustice of murderous drug dealers, physical abuse, rape, prostitution, and forced heroin use. In addition, Foxy Brown illustrates female hyper sexualization. While Foxy poses as a prostitute, the nudity can be associa ted with the nature of the job. However, when Foxy is trapped by the men beating and raping her, she is shown with her shirt open (Figure 2 5 ) and her breasts visible ( Foxy Brown 1974). One could argue that the nude scenes are not necessary to the contin uation of the plot. Contrarily, it could be argued the rape scene with her half exposed upper body adds a sense of realism to the scene. Since the actual rape is not a part of the film, the open shirt ensures the audience will understand the implication ( F oxy Brown 1974). Despite the emotional element present in Sheba, Baby even Sheba is hyper sexualized, but in comparison to Coffy and Foxy Brown, the level of hyper sexualization is minimal. A relationship with her love interest is portrayed in a manner tha t reveals a strong emotional connection. Sheba and her boyfriend are filmed at a park, where they disagree on the best way to approach the thugs, but in the end, they are drawn to each
55 ed furthers the emotional aspect of their relationship ( Sheba, Baby 1975). The subtlety of the hyper sexualization is noticed in the opening scene, with Sheba marching down a street decked out in a denim outfit. Her demeanor shows confidence and intrigue. In this film, unlike Coffy and Foxy Brown, rarely dressed in revealing clothes. Even though Sheba is dressed professionally, she is still framed by the camera in a sexual manner. In the opening scenes, she is dressed in a manner that f ully covers her body, but the camera focuses a close up shot on her backside, il luminating her voluptuous body. The same is recast as the last scene of the film. So, in the beginning and in the very end, Sheba is sexualized ( Sheba, Baby 1975). While the c lose up backside frame is riddled with innuendo, the rest of the film contains minimal instances of hyper sexualization. Also, when she goes to the party on a yacht, she wears a revealing dress that accentuates her breasts, but that dress is an apparatus to gain the attention of the villain a successful tool. Finally, Sheba swims to the yacht wearing a wet suit that clings to her body in a sexualized mann er When she is captured, she unzips the front of her swimsuit to lure the villain, nicknamed Shark, cl top of her wet suit is another example of embracing sexuality as a tool for empowerment. Shark was going to rape her, and she fought back. Her situation was not immediately changed, but she did not give up until she was free and vengeance was exacted ( Sheba, Baby 1975). While Sheba, Baby has pivotal scenes exemplifying female empowerment, hyper sexualization, and vigilantism, the focus of the film remains emotional. She loves her
56 father and every decision she makes is directly related to her love for her father -not exacting revenge, attaining justice, or sending a message. In fact, once she avenges his death, she feels there is nothing left there for her, not even Brick, and she retu rns to her life in Chicago ( Sheba, Baby 1975). The characterizations in Coffy, Foxy Brown, and Sheba, Baby allow for a deeper insight into the political and social notions of the time, particularly in the radical feminism of women of color. In Coffy the notion of female empowerment was indicative of the realms. In Foxy Brown, the vigilante centered attitude shows an association between vigilantism and justice, and shows female empowerment as the practice to free all women. Finally, Sheba, Baby of the cultural values of that time, including political, racial, and familial values. Thus, 1970s, and also highlight a growing awareness of the interlocking oppressions that plagued black women, as well as the extent of their willingness to surmount these obstacles.
57 Figure 2 1 Coffy film cover Figure 2 2 Foxy Brown film cover Figure 2 3 Sheba, Baby film cover Figure 2 4 Coffy sexualized
58 Figure 2 5 Foxy in rape scene
59 C HAPTER 3 AUDIENCE PERCEPTION AND RACE RELATIONS The characterizations in Coffy, Foxy Brown, and Sheba, Baby reveal behavioral patterns of males/females, as well as the deportment of primary and secondary characters. However, the characterizations argument can be taken one step farther. The way characters behave also reveals the controversy surrounding the social and cultural norms of the time especially regarding perceptions of race and gender in the viewing society. The concept of black women facing multifaceted racist and sexist ideals and the at home domestic ideology of men situated as the dominant, all powerful leader were criticized by multiple scholars and activists including Angela Davis, Patricia Hill Collins, Clayborne Carso n and others (Cheddie, 2010; 2007, Taylor, 2005). However, it is important to understand the gender hierarchical structure in which society operated at the time because it is a on screen characters. In all three films, her characters are looked down upon and degraded by the white characters, not only for being black, but for being black women. This shows the expectation that women, specifically black wo men, were regarded as accepted part of life. Notions of subservience and relegation of black individuals transcend decades, even centuries, and permeated American societ y. Contrary to popular thinking, the deeply ingrained misconception of black people being granted freedom and obtaining racial equity after the Civil War is far from accurate. After the Emancipation
60 Proclamation and the Civil War, all states, in rebellion against the U.S. government and seceded from the Union, were required to release blacks being held and treated as slaves (Arnhart, 2010; Ayers, Foner, Hine and Jealous, 2012). However, enslavement, subjugation, and verbal, physical, and mental abuse by whi te people remains an ominous stain on American history. My study examined alternative measures of dehumanizing, enslaving, and slavery was abolished, white supremacy evisce rated the south through alternative manifestations that might have changed over time, but were not completely suppressed. Foxy Brown, Coffy and Sheba, Baby displayed these manifestations of racial tension, characters in negative situations that all subjected to these negative situations. compelling features of Coffy, Foxy Brown and Sheba, Baby Additionally, society. All th ree films combine strongly exploitive themes with black feminist elements, and a variety of audience responses to the extreme, violent, sexual and racially charged deep analyzed audience reception, demographics of moviegoers, and box office profits for these three films.
61 Racist Sentiment The forced separation of black and white individuals, combin ed with racist sentiment, was prevalent during the beginning of the twentieth century. In the documentary film, SLAVERY by another name (2012), narrator Laurence Fishburne southe detailing historical proof of many atrocities committed in dehumanizing, enslaving, and corr upt legal policies. This dark period, depicted in the documentary, eventually tapered off with the presidential election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and after the start of World War II ( SLAVERY by Another Name 2012). However, as time progressed, forced s egregation caused indignant outcry from socially conservative, racist whites. The outcry expanded to include historically known protests regarding school, bus, and town segregations (Alderman et al. 2013; Lee, 2012), as well as income and wage disparities Even after WWII, the disenfranchisement of blacks still existed in American society, but it was manifested in a new form the film industry. For example, the entire blaxploitation genre was exploited by major Hollywood studios owned and produced by whit e men. These white men saw a chance to make a low budget film that would appeal to a certain demographic and earn a substantial profit. Meanwhile, black actors and actresses were overworked, underpaid, and undervalued by film production bigwigs who refuse d to place them in empowered roles in the film industry. (Dagbovie, 2007; Hall, 2007; Jordan, 1972; Kelleher, 1982; Mendieta, 2007; SLAVERY by Another Name, 2012).
62 Yvonne Sims (2006) determined that the blaxploitation genre became a style of film never see n before. In her book, Women of Blaxploitation: How the black action film heroine changed American popular culture she contended that Pam Grier epitomized the blaxploitation genre because at the time, with the prevailing racist and sexist sentiment, very few black women successfully established a recognizable and iconic name in the acting realm. Among the few successful, black female actresses in films Sims (2006) reasoned that racism in major Hollywood studios, relating specifically to black women, was contradictory in nature: Hollywood has always produced films with strong heros, but the action genre had been dominated by white m ale actors until Blaxploitation movies were released. Given the historic representation of African American women in cinema, a black actress starring in a genre dominated [Grier] gave the action heroine a persona that would later be used as a t and Dobson as sexually aggressive and willing to uphold the slavery era stereotype of black women as whores to achieve their goal of defeating racist whites. Pilgrim adde d, attractive and aggressive rebels, willing and able to gain revenge against corrupt
63 However, historian Donald Bogle (1994) likened these women to protectors of style mammies, they ran not simply a household but a universe unto itself. Often they were out to clean up the ghetto of drug pushers, protectin g the black hearth and home from corrupt infiltrators. Dobson 251). They identified with and defended their race, were also quite capable of distinguishing the good and ba d in it. For example, in Coffy, race. Coffy identifies herself as a strong black woman. She also recognizes that some of the drug problem results from black dealers, as well as white. In her min d, it is not is a police officer, and her boyfriend, Howard, is a politician. As a nurse, Coffy understands the negative repercussions of drug use and the importance of eliminating drug solicitation from the streets. In her mind, there is no alternative; her black and white ideology of right and wrong do not allow her to differentiate between races. Consequently, the drug lord Coffy shoots and kills in the beginning of the film is black. Also, his right hand man and for you because you bet Coffy, 1973). To her, if it relates to drug distribution, Coffy intends to destroy the dealers or the drugs. Likewise, when talking to Carter, she criticizes the corruption in the police department. In the conversation, they arg ue over how the corruption should be handled.
64 Carter: What would you do, kill all of them? Coffy: Well, why not? Nothing else seems to do any good. You know who you just arrest them? C a piece of the action! (Coffy, 1973). The interesting aspect of this scene, when compared to the murder of the two bl ack drug lords, is that all the villainous police officers are white, whereas the one noncorrupt police officer is black (Carter). The real racial element exemplified in this scene specifically, but situated throughout the film, lies in what is not directl y said but implied: The white police officers are the problem and the black drug pushers are simply trying to survive ( Coffy, 1973). Coffy because of her chameleon like quality of being able t o adapt to various social classes and settings. As Coffy, Grier was expected to believably shift from the educated, middle class professional world of a nurse to a lower profanity, capable of dealing with the myriad of lowlifes and criminals she encounters on her vigilante journey. This is particularly critical in the racial conflicts that erupt between corrupt whites and oppressed blacks. In an interview, with film researcher Eithne Quinn, Hill said, Grier wa s very good at making the shift from a very classy, cultured black woman to really getting down and talking tough. She was at home in both worlds like a chameleon. She could meet politicians, then turn around and use the language. She surprises you. She was very good at that the shift. (Quinn, 2012)
65 to dabble in the untrustworthy and bri bable character of his peers, is positioned as a good man and a hero. His honorable stance against corruption results in him being jumped in his home by white men, suffering a vicious beating, and being removed from the heroic equation ( Coffy, 1973). At t he hospital, the doctor tells Coffy her faithful and just friend will not be able to function as a result of his horrendous beating. Tears ( Coffy, 1973). That was a major racial indicator associating corruption with skin color: all of she must fight the organization that destroyed her friend. To accomplish this task, Coffy must engage in several altercations in order to make her presence known ( Coffy, 1973). conflict specifically related to black women. Delving into the dualistic oppression imposed on blac k women, scholar Patricia Hill Collins determined that not society considered women inferior to men as a whole, because of the social construction of gender, and an intersectionality of oppression within the family realm also existed (Hill Collins, 1998). This particular form of oppression is latent but powerful. The matriarchal figure appears to be the leader when males are young; however, everything changes construct one anothe r; mothers comply with fathers, sisters defer to brothers, all with
66 Collins, 1998, p. 65). According to Hill Collins (1998) this type of role formation provokes unfair ge nder hierarchies, and reinforces this as normal to the family unit: Families are expected to socialize their members into an appropriate set assumed unity of interests symbolized by the family and lay the foundation place in hierarchies of race, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, nation and social class in their families of origin. At the same time, they learn to view such hierarchies as natural social arrangements, as compared to socially Elaine Brown, the first and only Black Panther Party chairwoman (1974 77), described this social hierarchy, with black women at the bottom, as a direc t reaction to the perceived threat to black manhood. Brown this concept of taking away black female empowerment to bolster black male empowerment was contrary to the very principles of asserting herself was a pariah. If a black woman assumed a role of leadership, she was said to be xploitation films and her rise to B movie stardom. In the interview, part of the tour to promote her Foxy: My Life in Three Acts in the films, which many considered negative, and about patterning h er character after the women in her life: When I did Coffy there were a number of black action films out there. But posturing like a man, jokes about male anatomy like men talk about female anatomy, comfortable wit h firearms and not barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen
67 threat. Men were really now seeing what women were asking for, and they had to prepare themselves for the sharing of equality (McDonald, 2010). This double standard is best exemplifi Later, after having sex with Coffy, he reduces her to a sex object to be used and Coffy, 1973). In essence, he has stripped away any power he previously acknowledged. Gender researcher degradation and harassment. Probing deeper into this familiar hierarchical construction, Hill Collins said women, especially black women, face oppression on multiple levels. On one level, oppression is by society as a whole, followed by the husbands who are deemed leaders of the household by arbitrary and antiquated socially constructed laws of biological determinism. Then, the sons who once respected and deferred to the will of their mothers begin demanding control and dominance after they reach a certain age (Lumsden, 2009; Robinson, 1998; Sims, 2006). c problem. Howard begins his Congressional campaign with a speech to address the drug problem circulating through the town:
68 Our power structure has given this man [a drug dealer] no reasonable alternative. You, you ask why would a power structure deliberately create narcotic sites? Well I ask you, where do you think that $100 a day goes? Oh sure, part of it goes to black pushers and distributors, but the main part of it, the really big part, goes to those white men who import the narcotics. And a big part goes to the white men who corrupt our law enforcement agencies. And the big part goes to those white men who draft our black boys and send them over to Indochina to protect other white men who are the big suppliers of the narcotics. So you see, this whole thing becomes a vicious attempt on the part of the white power structure to exploit o ur black men and women in this society ( Coffy, 1973). This speech clearly portrays white men as oppressive and out to contribute to the rising drug problem in the community. However, and more important, the use of the iberate attempt to undermine and minimize the organizations, Howard de emphasizes the corruption running the streets. The scene aves the speech session to get into a car with the drug dealers ( Coffy, 1973). viewpoint in general, or to current motivations to destroy the drug cartel. She believes in co mplete elimination of all corruption, from the black and white man. She does not want to eradicate the corrupted white drug organizations, but exclude the corrupted black drug organizations. n one encounter, she is forced to interact with the head drug dealer, Vitroni, who has a penchant for being demeaning and abusive in sexual encounters with prostitutes. He is especially violent ne with Coffy, he throws her on the floor and tells her to crawl over to him and beg for sex. Coffy reaches
69 into her purse and pulls out a teddy bear, which conceals a gun. She stands up slowly to spit on me and Coffy 1973). This scene racial disparity. Although Grier later admitted to having collaborated with Hill in creating certain aspects of her Coffy character, dialogue, and story points, as well as action scene elements, Hill claimed full credit for developing this particularly unsettling scene with Vitroni (Quinn, 2012, p. 281 82). Historian Bogle c ompared the treatment of these years in America: They were often perceived as being exotic sex objects (Grier's raw sexuality was always exploited) yet with a twist. Although men manhandle them, Grier and Dobson also took liberties with men, at times using them as playful, comic toys, (Bogle, 1994, p. 251). Before Coffy could comes in, takes the gun from her, and interrogates her about who told her to kill the did have trust for Coffy 1973). The security guard linnks his lack of trust in King George to skin color. When Vitroni believes King George is behind his attempted assassination, he orders King men, kill King George by tying a noose around his neck and pulling him behind the car, indicative of the lynching of black individuals by racist whites in Southern states ( Coffy 1973).
70 Likewise, Coffy responds violently when she learns most of the police officers are part of a monstrous drug cartel and a major problem to society. An interesting dynamic between black and white characters emerges again. The film positions the corrupt police officers as bad white men, because every dishonest and reprehensibl e police cannot be rid of drug dealers if police officers have all succumbed to the bribery that allows the drug dealers to run rampant (Coffy, 1973). Initially, the is sue of race did not did not discriminate against black/white policemen/villains; she simply wanted the corruption to end. While Coffy had strong racial identifiers, racial depictions are more subtle but go deeper into white Southerners psyches, revealing a return of the slave/master plantation ideology. Despite a continual racial undercurrent of conflict between black and white characters in the film, two specific scenes reveal the crux of racism at the time. The first is when Foxy embarrasses an important judge who is ass corrupt honky judge, take your little wet noodle Foxy Brown manner degrading to the judge ( Foxy Brown 1974). The other racially charged incident is the rape scene (Figure 3 1 ) in which Foxy is beaten and raped while bound to a bedpost. In the book Disco divas: Women, gender, and popular culture in the 1970s, author Sherrie A. Inness analyzed the scene: She suffers sexual humiliation in a scene that seems a ri tual of black female submission to white male phallic power. Nowhere does the film reinvest more definitely in the historical sexualization and devaluation of
71 and where drugs are stored and processe, [Director Jack] Hill goes he film reenacts the historical rape of black slave women and the breaking of spirited slaves through physical abuse by white masters with the complicity of the white mistress. Foxy Brown is roped to the bedpost and then repeatedly beaten, drugged, and rap ed by two white males who are obviously supposed to be the embodiment of the stereotypical redneck Southern character. The dialogue reinforces the historical racialized implications of devaluat ion of her black female body and personhood, they tell her she is Inness 2003). where she is captured by bodyguards (Figure 3 2 t right there, spook. Yeah and violate her ( Foxy Brown 1974). Like Foxy Brown Sheba, Baby depicts the slave/master plantation ideology as it shows the main female character r eturning home to Louisville, Kentucky, a very southern and racist environment. First, she encounters passive racism from the detective who refuses to give her father police protection. In this instance, passive racism is a subtle form of racism involving c omplete disregard for the problems or issues of Grier and her father without actually claiming it is because of their skin color. Also, the main villain, referred to as Shark (Figure 3 3 ), is white, as are his girlfriend and bodyguards. Uniquely, Pilot is positioned in so that, compared to Shark, he is framed to elicit empathy from the audience. He does not kill any of the main characters directly and cannot capture Sheba; and in his demise, he is set up as so helpless and pathetic that his situation could elicit sympathy ( Sheba, Baby 1975).
72 Along with the social and familial oppression black women faced from males, there was an additional element of racism. During the Civil Rights Movement, a subtle form of racism was thrust on black women by the white fem ale participants of first wave feminism. The historical framework of feminist theory is fundamentally flawed because from the inner workings of the different organizations dedicated to fighting for gender equity, and disenfranchised from the movement altogether (Harnois & Ifatunji, 2011; Hill Collins, 1991; 2006; Loyd, 2011; Taylor, 1998). In short, black women were alienated by white men, overlooked by black men, and dise nfranchised by white women. The women who wanted to fight against this oppression were, unfortunately, forced to choose which systems of oppression they race took on particular forms, Black women were forced to choose between pledging 241). Examining gender specific racism, Harnois and Ifatunji (2011) argued that oppression is formed and executed in multif aceted ways, and one must recognize this factor in order to fight against it. They contended that racism, sexism, or class discrimination needed to be produced nor experie A unique sexism racism combination is at the forefront of several situations in Coffy of exotic and foreign looking women. Coffy uses this information to develop her failed plan to assassinate Vitroni.
73 The abuse Coffy suffers is minimal compared to what Priscilla endures in her breakup with King George. The end of their relationship invol ves Priscilla being beaten, having Coffy 1973). The racial element of that statement implies that, while not blatantly criticizing interracial relationships, racial conflict remains and it transcends romantic relationships. In a similar interracially oriented situation, when Coffy confronts her boyfriend, Howard, about his treachery, she is temporarily swayed by his rhetoric and is able to shoot him in the groin only after she discovers a naked white woman upstairs ( Coffy 1973). girlfriend, Meg, engage in a fight at a party. Meg, who is whi te, is jealous of the attention ( Coffy 1973). This is a direct black versus white conflict. All the women who oppose Coffy are white. However, Coffy, the only black woma n, dominates all others and wins the fight. Audience Reception This type of heroic triumph appealed to audience members, and black moviegoers provided the ideal audience for the blaxploitation genre of films. Losing money since the post World War II peak o f $90 million, the film industry was eager to bring in more patrons (Steinberg, 1982, p. 146). According to Variety magazine, the film and entertainment trade publication, the film industry had been keeping track of black 15 years. Blacks made up more than 30% of the first run movie audience in major cities, while Ebony readers alone spent as much as $450,000 a week on movie tickets ( Variety 1967). These audiences were the result of
74 shifting demographics as more whites mov ed to the suburbs, and inner city movie houses were left to the blacks who remained in the communities. In addition, those middle class blacks who joined the exodus to suburbia would journey to the cities for a night out, thereby increasing black box offi ce power and making urban centers such as Atlanta and Chicago predominantly black entertainment hubs ( Newsweek 1971, p. 66; Time 1972). Also, academic articles argued that the primary spectators for blaxploitation films, such as Coffy, were African Amer icans, and the characters (Kraszewski, 2002). For example, it allowed women to identify as strong, assertive, and empowered human beings. According to Clark (2000), The blaxploitation films of this period were extremely popular with audiences and successful financially as well, but they also were the subject of much criticism from community leaders and the black press. These movies were being made by major Hollywood s tudios but on lower budgets than most of their other pictures, and many critics of Blaxploitation films felt that the studios were cynically producing violent junk for the African American audience rather than making uplifting films with better production Marketed to a basically inner city, black youth audience, blaxploitation films, especially those like Coffy and Foxy Brown were made possible by growing political and social consciousness among black Americans who witnessed the Black N ationalist degradation of African Americans as victims, criminals, and intellectual weaklings, lly provocative content caused enormous dialogue among critics, activists, and spectators. One thing is for certain: whether the intention was to criticize or glorify black, female characters, Coffy was a box office hit.
75 For example, some newspaper articl es and journal entries commended Coffy while others criticized the film ( Chicago Defender, 1973; Los Angeles Sentinel, 1972; Washington Post, 1977). However, the indisputable fact remains that Coffy which was made for $500,000, (Parish and Hill, 1989, p. 101) earned a lot of money. Over the first 10 days of its appearance in U.S. theaters, Coffy earned almost $400,000 in box office revenue, with the largest earnings in Chicago ($85,392 over 7 days), Miami ($59,840 over 10 days), Philadelphia ($34,936 ove r six days), and Washington, D.C. ($32,213 over 5 days) ( Boxoffice Magazine 1973). The Washington Post claimed that Coffy earned $10 million ( Washington Post, 1977). Ethne Quinn (2012) said that Coffy week takin gs at the single theatre in Chicago where it premiered, made it the twentieth top rentals ( Variety g USA Today 1988). Unfortunately, Foxy Brown, the sequel like follow up to Coffy received mixed reviews from critics. For example, a negative review in Variety en by the gutter high standards of the genre, Foxy Brown 1973, p.1). In contrast, The Washington Post said Foxy Brown in a jar. As the volatile momma in hot pants, leather boots and tight blouses, Grier epitomized the negative reviews from critics, a Chicago Daily Defender item r eported on a riot that
76 hours after black teenagers and adult patrons became angry about the lengthy wait to view Foxy Brown in the already filled to capacity movie theat er ( Daily Defender April 16, 1974). Later information calculated that the film grossed $2,460,000 million (Arkoff, 1992). in an interview with The Washington Post, Grier addr essed the differences in roles and the reception she received for Foxy Brown and Coffy. The July 12, 1977, Post article pointed out that since 1972, Grier had taken roles specifically designed for her roles blades, karate chops, and voodoo Coffy about major social change, she stressed, it did get a r eaction from society. She said, death, getting rid of pushers. And the women were strong. They said stand up for your rights. The reactions pleased me." Sheba, Baby was also a box office hit for the film industry, despite being panned Coffy and Foxy Brown Earl Calloway, a writer for the Chicago Daily Defender referred to Sheba, Baby touch of a strong producer and sensitive director to develop her artistic expressions to their great Chicago Daily Defender 1975). Yet, moviegoers flocked to
77 see the film. A 1975 article in the Atlanta Daily revealed that only four black films had Sheba, Baby was Number 16 ( Atlanta Daily World, 19 75). Sheba, Baby was the only PG rated film of the three that helped skyrocket Grier to fame. Yet, by the time Grier made Sheba, Baby in 1975, even she was beginning to pr oducers should get away from sex, having babies, from the dope pushers, the pimps and whores. It is time to get to our minds and use our intelligence. That's what is important now ( Chicago Daily Defender 1975)." Audience reception continues to be a key th eme in the entertainment industry and the cultural perception of society as a whole. For example, a survey was conducted published in Jet ites said their neighborhood contained no blacks; that figure shrank to 53% in 1974. Whites believing in strict segregation declined from 25% to 10%. Whites believing that the federal government should protect the rights of Blacks to equal housing rose fro Jet 1975, p. 10). It could be argued that the blaxploitation genre contributed to this changing perception. Kraszewski (2002) said racial equity is a result of increased awareness res in the 1980s, the audience for blaxploitation expanded to include a large number of white viewers. No Despite the lack of research to gauge the correlation, once v ideo stores offered this
78 option for viewing blaxploitation films, white audiences appeared to become more aware of racial disparities. an admirable contribution to social ch ange. Agreeing with the accusations of a mixed review of audience responses to Sheba, Baby and the other two black heroine films, Grier said in an interview with The Grio an online NBC news entertainment affiliate: When we introduced an image of the fema le being so liberated, I think it Woodstock, of free love and short skirts. It was a whole different movement, a global movement if you will. So we had this explosion Abzug, or Shirley Chisholm, or Barbara Jordan, it was coming from all Growing up I could see ho w influential women were going to be in the world. It was all about Buddhist principles of balance, Yin and Yang. We back in the day. We just wanted to stand up. Women were doing what Pam have so many women tell me that I helped give them the confidence to be a firefighter, an Olympic s skier, and so many other things. Women just wanted to elevate themselves without put ting anyone else down, and we have made such incredible strides (Rust, 2010). In discussing the disenfranchisement of black women in the feminist movement, scholar Patricia Hill Collins (1991) argued that during the first wave of feminism, the have historically, and often continue to be, the problem with the slow moving progression of black women attaining universal equity: In the context of feminism as a global political m rights and emancipations, the patterns of feminist knowledge and politics that African American women encounter in the United States represent but
79 a narrow segment refracted through the dichotomous racial politics of white supremacy in the United States. Because the media in the United States portrays feminism as a for whites only movement, and because many white women accepted this view feminism is often viewed by both represent the social movement of black women against racism, sexism, and gender inequity by white men and women. Hill Collins advanced the progressive notion of gender incl usion through coinage of the new term (Hill Collins, 1991). Harnois and Ifatunji (2011) took this progression of a previously excluded group one step farther and argued that headway has been made to advance the Civil Rights social movement to an identity b ased movement. Harnois and Ifatunji introduced the standpoint theory as a part of the second ore, Harnois and Ifatunji said social movements should include all individual entities and not simply a whole group or even individual subgroups within the overall oppressed group. What makes my study so relevant is that the constructs suggested in the Ha rnois and Ifatunji study, the standpoint theory advocating for total inclusion, could potentially align with screen characters. When looking from a theoretical perspective, it is clear that the inner dynamics of from simple. They had to contend with overwhelming racist sentiment from many white men, they were disenfranchised and discriminated against by white women, and they were oppressed and relegated to their own homes by black men. The disenfranchisement of bl ack women was perceived as normal, and was
80 entirely left out of the civil rights and feminist movements. Grunell and Saharso said until black women began organizing separately the issue of separatism and exclusion of black women did not even come to light. especially women organizing separately, did not meet with much sympathy from either interest in their experiences from both the black 206). became an apparatus for black individuals to break fro m traditional, subservient buffoonery and other degrading roles associated with the black film industry and the plantation genre and embrace new, empowered roles as confident individuals capable of getting what they wanted. Essentially, they broke from ra cism. most compelling and seminal features, as well as the most revealing in terms of black onal devices and themes with black feminist elements. While the commercial collaboration between American International Productions and director Jack Hill were responsible for aracters, the black feminist elements resulted from the creative collaboration between Hill and Grier, drawing from her personal experiences, the role models in her life. Thus, she had the greater control over the image she was presenting to her viewing au dience.
81 screen characters representing a model for female empowerment, especially for black women, while positi encouraged abandoning traditional ideology involving servitude, and advanced the notion of strength through sexual empowerment and engaging in aggressive behavior self asserting on screen personas were believable because of the underlying sense of reality associa ted with her blaxploitation film characters. Figure 3 1 Foxy during the rape scene F igure 3 2 Coffy being accosted
82 Figure 3 3 Shark and Sheba
83 CHAPTER 4 VIGILANTISM I examined the vigilante aspect in Coffy Foxy Brown and Sheba, Baby Previous research indicates that these three films contain interconnected themes (Guerrero, 1993; Parish, 1989; Sims, 2006; Schwartz et al. 1982; Trescoll, 1977; Weiner, 2009; Yarbough, 2005), and each film propagates a stronger focus on one theme over another. The centered notion is most prominent in Foxy Brown Hollywood of the 1970s became the prime arena for depicting a particular brand o appeared throughout history whenever private citizens perceived that civil authorities we re unwilling or unable to achieve justice against criminals in their communities or to offer hope that conditions will improve (Jacoby, 1983). For example, Marx and Archer n the possibility that citizens in other communities might be equally supportive of citizens taking a proactive role in policing their neighborhoods. They predicted that this shared ime would Likewise, Karmen (1984) noted a harsher type of citizens group whose members consi dered themselves a critical supplemental to defending their families and
84 vigilantism 248). Film historians Albert Auster and Leonard Quart (2011) reasoned that many films of the mid ack of optimism about the remaining studios increased their publicity budgets to target films to a younger audience 12 to 26 years old. Of this emphasis on appealing t o 1970s youth, John and Catherine Silk (1990) declared: For a short period in the early seventies, films made primarily by blacks for blacks were also the most lucrative films backed by Hollywood. . Young black audiences, who were now increasingly impo rtant economically to the industry, expected to see forceful black characters on the screen. This expressed a change of mood associated with the success of Civil Rights in the South, the riots and rise of black power and Black Nationalism in the ghettos (p 175). as the key motivation for the prosperity of these films. These disillusioned youth proved to be willing audiences for the vigilantism of blaxploitation films, after the televised brutality directed at blacks during the Civil Rights Movement. Film analyst Cedric J. Robinson (1998) said, Shortly after the nation had been inundated by the televised scenes of freedom seeking Black bodies being mauled by police hoses and dog s, and mobbed and spat upon by white citizens, Hollywood film makers recast the freedom movement as outlawry and, in a sub genre of Blaxploitation, Black women were portrayed as vigilantes. . Inhabiting a society in which the rule of law and social civ ility were merely superficial veneers, a world in which the quest for civil rights was at best a naive self preservation took the form of execution and banditry (p. 5).
85 My study examines this vigilante aspect in Coffy Foxy Brown and Sheba, Baby Previous research indicates that these films contain interconnected themes (Guerrero, 1993; Parish, 1989; Schwartz et. al, 1982; Sims, 2006; Trescoll, 1977; Weiner, 2009; Yarbough, 2005), and each film propagates a stronger fo cus on one theme over centered notion is most prominent in Foxy Brown Additionally, my study e Rights Movement as a parallel to the extreme vigilante centered measures in Coffy Foxy Brown and Sheba, Baby Finally, there is more to the vigilante theme than revenge. The underlying reason for the rag e, violence, and vengeance in each film is filled, violent acts as a response to the overwhelming unfairness of politi cal and social bigotry. While highly criticized, the blaxploitation genre established a framework providing a new arena to fight the eighborhood (Guerrero, 1993; Robinson, 1998; Sims, 2006; Weiner, 2009). protect family and co mm image portrayed black women as strong and invincible. The message was sent that 79).
86 Coffy ion on family, early in being. Coffy is a woman who refuses to accept her current situation and atte mpts to create a better life for herself and her loved ones ( Coffy, 1973). values and affection, and by his indifference to how his political practices result in harm to local c ommunities and families. Once Coffy unquestionably knows Howard has lied about his love for her, she can clearly see his other lies and corruption. She realizes and sis ters is nothing more than a manipulative tactic to sweet talk Coffy into not shooting him. By doing this, he makes a mockery of the family values she holds dear. A completely enraged Coffy shoots Howard in the genitals and walks away without a second look ( Coffy, 1973). A stronger element of vigilantism is exemplified in Foxy Brown than in Coffy or Sheba, Baby In Foxy Brown three separate family related incidents contribute to nt involves her brother Link. In the opening scene of the film, Link calls Foxy late at night because two thugs are attempting to trap and kill him. At first, Foxy hesitates to come to his rescue because she believes he is involved in drug solicitation and she is upset and ( Foxy Brown 1974).
87 she arrives, thugs who work for a loan shark are already chasing Link. To protect her brother, Foxy runs over one man and pitches another into a nearby river ( Foxy Brown 1974). Foxy perceives violent actions as a normal response to her current situation and a logical way to protect her brother. The death of one of her extended family members, her long time boyfriend, Michael, plays a similar role in igniting F arms from a drive by shooting involving men from the drug organization he was trying to infiltrate, Foxy suspects Link as the dirty informant. While staying with Foxy, Link location in exchange for forgiveness of a $20,000 debt. A distraught and teary eyed starts shooting at Link, who is in a state of shock and terrified of his furious and deadly sister ( Foxy Brown 1974). Despite her grief and rage, Foxy forces herself to remember her family loyalties in her dialogue with Link. Link: What are you trying to do? Kill me? u! Foxy: You know damn well what you did! Now I am not going to stand here either them or you. Foxy: Now I only got so much c ontrol, and I am liable to put one of these right between your eyes, no matter what momma says.
88 Link divulges everything he knows about the drug dealers, Katherine and Steve Elias, and their organization. Afterward, Foxy warns him to leave town because th e thugs will not call off their attempts to apprehend him. Her warning shows she wants to save Link, even though she is furious with him and wants to punish someone for from her brother to Katherine, Steve Elias, and the entire drug operation ( Foxy Brown 1974). ev dealing Steve and Katherine and to initiate a plan of attack that will destroy the entire organization. Foxy meets a young woman, Claudia, and they bond en route to the appointment with breaks down because she misses her husband and son, but knows Katherine and Steve will ne Foxy Brown 1974). This scene shows two aspects of the way Foxy values familial loyalty and protecting loved ones. First, Foxy embraces Claudia as part of her adopted family, and they bond ove r the oppressive experiences at the brothel. Second, this relationship shows the degree to which Foxy values the nuclear family unit, even if it is not hers.
89 Foxy eventually sacrifices her own well being to champion Claudia. At the lesbian bar, she protect s Claudia from aggressive and boisterous women who want Claudia to Claudia and her family out the back side of the street ( Foxy Brown 1974). However, because Claudia escapes taken to the shack to be force fed drugs, and raped. At the camp, Foxy, hands restrained behind her back, uses her mouth to grab the much needed key (figure 4 2), throws gasoline on her captors, and lights them on fire an extreme response to justly remove herself from danger ( Foxy Brown 1974). The overwhelming desire to protect family lands Foxy in a dangerous situation and causes her to resort to violence to escape. In an attempt to destroy the organization, Foxy joins forces with her friend Oscar, Foxy refers to her brother Link, recently murdered by the drug lords. As she talks about rother too, or your sister or your children. I Uncontrollable rage from her unfair losses transforms into an overwhelming need to protect and avenge. Her compelling words e ntice the committee to assist in her endeavors, and they strategize a plan ( Foxy Brown 1974). s to
90 to Katherine, she illustrates the most blatant form of rage and revenge. In short, K atherine has destroyed her family, so Foxy and her neighborhood family reciprocate ( Foxy Brown 1974). indicates that while she has no qualms about violent measures of response when n to herself or to her loved ones. For example, when she is almost blown up by the car bomb intended for her father, her immediate response to the situation is to reciprocate with an e qually for violence against the assailants revolves around the health and happiness of her father. She barely gives thought to the fact that she is in the car, no t her father, and well being ( Sheba, Baby 1975). romantic few days after she destroys the Shayne Loan Company. Urging her to change her mind, a troubled Brick implores her, to check on my interests, remember?" Brick squeezes her hand tightly and says. "Take care of yourself." He looks as if he wants to say something else, but Sheba stops him with, "Don't, Brick. Let's just let it go right here." Kissing him tenderly and with emotion (figure 4 3), she turns and walks to the taxi waiting to take her to the airport ( Sheba, Baby 1975).
91 The important thing about the dynamic of this relationship is that, as opposed to Foxy Brown nship with Brick is secondary to her relationship with father and her concern his well member of the family. Sheba recognizes that her home was with her father, and since he is no longer with her, this place is not her home anymore. Therefore, she returns to her life in Chicago ( Sheba, Baby attraction is the viol ence, from a practical perspective, it is necessary to establish a theme for the films which, for the most part, is empowerment through rage and violence. The second reason is to provide a framework to show why violent actions and self empowerment were nec essary as a response to the political discord and Foxy Brown embodies notions of strength, resiliency, and accom plishment, which separate her from others during difficult and oppressive times. Her character shows that survival is possible with a mindset of reciprocity. She responds to violence with violence, murder with murder, and destruction and mayhem with destr uction and mayhem ( Foxy Brown 1974). To further examine the resonating political and social values attached to Foxy Brown as well as Coffy and Sheba, Baby, it is necessary to examine the political s. The extremism of the times illustrated the need for blacks to exert violence as a means of survival and success. Sociologist William Brigham (1996) determined that this extremism resulted from the t easily or quickly abated: such
92 conditions as racism, unemployment, poverty, violence, substandard housing, illiteracy, infant mortality, teenage pregnancy, and other calamities of life for African ela Davis, involved with the Black Panther political movement, earnestly tried to change the current oppressive culture associated with societal perceptions of black individuals. She was such a controversial documented, exposed, and critiqued the myriad of ways in w hich the U.S. policy is Davis adopted a controversial, ideology that resonated with many black women in their efforts to end the pervasive racist sentiment among white Amer icans (Dagbovie, 2007; Mendieta, 2007). She was a 20th regarding political, economic, and psychological perceptions of black and white integration. She actively engaged in promoting awaren ess to end pervading racist notions (Givens & Monahan, 2005; Guerrero, 1999; Harnois & Ifatunji, 2011; Hill Collins, 1998; La Rue, 1970; Weiner, 2009). Additionally, Davis developed the theory regarding the unequal racial dynamic between whites and blacks that was later expounded on by Patricia Hill Collins (1998). resulted in a constant cause for outcry and indignation. She focused on the theoretical constructs associat ed with the unfair gender binary that continually disenfranchised
93 black women. Hill Collins said white men regarded black women as highly sexed individuals in a degrading capacity, and showed little interest in black women as anything more than sex objects Also, white women continually excluded black women from organized suffrage movements, thereby (ironically) creating a racial divide while source of oppression for blac k women. Hill Collins argued ( and was later supported by many other scholars such as Dagbovie, La Rue and Mendieta) that black men saw and remain available to satiate any sexua did not regard women in respect to major decision makers or as providers (Dagbovie, 2007; Hill Collins, 1998; La Rue, 1970; Mendieta, 2007). t as it parallels with the extreme vigilante centered measures in Coffy Foxy Brown and Sheba, Baby aiding the Black Panther movement whenever possible; facing arrest, abuse and raci vigilantism (Dagbovie, 2007; La Rue,1970; Mendieta, 2007). She fought for equality with any means possible. In 1968, poet and social critic Larry Neal argued that one requirement for the defined Afro market for the art, including black rld in terms
94 serve as a tool to explain extreme responses to political unrest and dissatisfaction, resulting in some level of violence, maiming, or castration in C offy Foxy Brown and Sheba, Baby viewpoints on using violence to eradicate violent drug de alers. The juxtaposition of their political beliefs sets Coffy up as the radical, who survives in the film, and Carter as the conservative, who is destroyed in the film. Their notions are evident in the following dialogue: Carter: What would you do, kill all of them [drug dealers]? Coffy: Well, why not? Nothing else seems to do any good. You know who you just arrest them? Coff a piece of the action! (Coffy, 1973). Coffy knows who the local drug dealers are and that the police department is riddled with corrupt officers accepting bribes from dealers. Mone y is given to the appropriate police officers to ensure the safety of those involved in illegal activities. In the world of blaxploitation action films, the law is always impotent or reluctant to must work outside the law or without the support of his department, and in vigilante films, he usually ends up being abiding Coffy is forced to take on the role of avenger not be cause she is violent by nature, but because
95 2007). However, complete destruction of an entire drug operation dominated by dangerous men protected by the police is no t easy. Coffy encounters many issues in her attempts to bring justice and remove tyranny through violence. For example, after she is taken captive by Vitroni, (figure 4 4), the perverted drug dealer who enjoys degrading intercourse, Vitroni has her politic ian boyfriend, Howard, brought to the secluded location where Vitrioni and his guards are holding Coffy. Vitrioni believes relationship. Seeing the danger of the situation, Howard argues that their relationship himself, Howard adamantly claims his loyalty to the organization that will make him the most money. He believes working with the d rug cartel will be lucrative, and he wants to remain a part of the corrupt system ( Coffy 1973). says he would have no misgivings if Vitrioni killed Coffy. Astonished and infuriate d by ( Coffy 1973). In promoting the movie, the Chicago Defender noted the similari ties realistic for audiences. The Defender narcotics within her own personal family, so her depiction of the enraged Coffy is
96 double situations and characters in the fast Chicago Defender May 12, 1973). Once inside the cabin, Coffy surprises Howard by aiming a shot gun at him (Figure 4 5). The captor and captive have traded positions leading to an awkward and intense conversation: Howard: I did what I did for my people, for our brothers and sisters. (Coffy, 1973) his personal agenda. He just wants to make money, and he resorts to exploiting the traditional notions of family Coffy holds so d lame attempt at persuasion enrages Coffy: Coffy: I can see plenty. I can see how each time a kid rips off a car or cut. somebody comes along to fill it. Black people want dope and brown people want dope, and as long as people are deprived of a decent life, they are going to want something to just plain feel good with. And nothing is going to change that except money and power, and that is what I am after, baby. Power to change things for our people. I want to get all that money back into the hands of black people like you and me. Yes, like you too, Coffy, and you can help me, baby, to make a better life for our people. Howard attempts to convince Coffy he loves her and wants to restart their
97 embodies a st rong, powerful black woman able to withstand enormous amounts of abuse, physical pain, hardship, loneliness and betrayal ( Coffy 1973). She endures potentially life altering abuse, and she overcomes seemingly insurmountable obstacles to exact justice. On s creen she represents a strong, black woman dead set on obtaining screen characters struck a chord with many working class black women who struggled to overcome obstacles in their personal and societal lives. Journ control of her situation. According to Vanessa Friedman, a researcher on the p olitics of 996). The [The woman] uses her body, and his body, as tools his body, his blood fertilizes the (re)creation of her identity. The murder she commits is not only an act of rage in th e face of an abusive situation, but a corporeal metaphor; the content of her act of murder is about using his body to speak, to make a final statement, to make herself understood and visible at last. She may even experience her rage as a transcendent thing a sacred thing. Her rage, which is honest and genuine, as all rage is, purifies that which is ugly. Her act of murder releases blood which is sacred; his blood purifies that which is ugly (Friedman, 1996).
98 By comparison, Foxy Brown also resorts to murde r by running over the henchmen to protect and rescue her brother Link, in the beginning scene of the movie. r him, and Link okay, so what Foxy Brown 1974). Link continues the story of how he ended up owing $20,000 to the loan shark: Link: I was doing fine before -dealing coke -but then you came down on me for that. Foxy: Oh, all right. I guess you will just have to stay here until I can figure elected mayor. But I watch TV, and I see all them people in all them fine homes they live in and all of them nice cars they drive and I get all full of ambition. Now you tell me what I am supposed to do with all this ambition I got. down in the street somewhere. Link: Baby, jail is where some of the finest people I know are these days. (Foxy Brown, 1974) Another instance of violent result of political and social outrage is when friend Oscar, part of the Neighborhood Committee, attacks a local drug dealer and forcefully removes him from town. When Oscar approaches Foxy and her boyfriend Dalton Ford, whose name was changed to Michael Anderson for protection against the drug dealers, the following conversation ensues:
99 Oscar: Well, uh that was one of them bad, no good niggers. We have been trying to catch up with him for a long time. Foxy: Oscar is with the neighborhood committee. Ford (Michael): Yeah, what kind of committee? O scar: The Anti Slavery committee: Ford (Michael): Slavery?!? Oscar: Yeah you see, we are in the process of abolishing what we call new Ford (Michael): I sure do. Oscar: I mean, these pushers, they buy protection from the police and from the man. But, from us there is not protection, you dig? justice? s vigilante trilogy, Sheba, Baby notions and distrust of the system when she begins an investigation by talking to men on the street. To familiarize herself with the drug operations, locations, and time schedule, Sheba questions a local dealer named Walker. When he refuses to Sheba, Baby 1975). To her, Walker is a disposable means of obtaining information and will not hinder the investigation. Sheba returns home and calls Brick. She tells him, "Listen, the hood that hit dad phone ( Sheba, Baby 1975). The fact that Sheba wants to handle the situation on her
100 violent act expression of her feelings about the patriarchy, as well as an effort at reconstituting her aring for her altercation with thugs, Sheba opens one of her suitcases, and the camera zooms in on the weapons within (Figure 4 6).The fact that Sheba has a suitcase full of artillery reveals her viewpoint and her ability to be lethal when provoked. She is prepared for any abide by her personal interpretation of justice and vengeance. The suitcase full of guns shows the vigilante aspect of Sheba Shayne. Sheba finds Pilot and his body guards in a back alley and, after revealing herself, leads them on a merry chase through neighboring fairgrounds, as she systematically separates and de arms the villains. One villain chasing her runs directly into a police officer and is imm ediately apprehended. She shoots another villain, and after apprehending Pilot, they wrestle and she overcomes him, placing his neck on the Pilot gives her all the needed informati on. As a final gesture of making her potential viciousness resonate, she tells the battered Pilot, "Now you tell your boss, if you see him before I do, that the lady is after his ass, and you are proof that I always get my man. You got that?!" Sheba leaves with a sadistic gleam in her eye, while a discombobulated Pilot feels his throat to make sure it is still firmly intact ( Sheba, Baby 1975).
101 nyone. This blended personality of violence and alluring femininity is what the audience came to expect (Knight, 2010, p. 66). On the one hand, Sheba, and other Grier characters, reinforced the stereotype of the black superwoman as a mean, angry, bitchy, f ull of attitude; while on the other hand, she was strong and invincible. After the encounter with Pilot, Sheba knows the yacht number on which the main jealous girlf riend, before being identified by Pilot. She jumps off the boat, swims to shore, changes into a wetsuit, grabs a gun, and swims back (Figure 4 7). Once back on the yacht, she is almost immediately captured and stowed below deck. The alway s prepared Sheba f inds a knife and hides it in her wet suit. Eventually, Sheba is brought Sheba: So what are your big plans?" Shark: Nothing complicated. After I dispose of you I'll have to take a vacation." Sheba: I knew no one legitimate could have a boat like this." S hark (in a condescending tone): Yacht, my dear. It's a yacht. I'm afraid we're going to have to tie you up (Sheba, Baby, 1975). An unexpected side effect of the blaxploitation film formula of using black women as victims is the ultimate reversal of roles when the oppressed victim fights back. Film scholars say, besides the sexual spectacle of women as victims, central to the narrative 102 yacht, Sheba struggles against the guards' clutches, always ready and willing to engage in battle. She even manages to chastise Shark for his drug activities.
102 Sheba: Your humor stinks. Do you have trouble sleeping at night? Shark (surprised): From taking m oney from stupid ignorant people? No. You have to admire a man for the goals that he sets (Sheba, Baby, 1975). In the distance, the speedboat driver cuts away Pilot's body, which has been dragging behind a boat until all life is washed out of it, and it di sappears into the water. like it out here. It gets me away from all the shit in the city." Sheba snaps, "I don't see how. You seem to bring it all along with you" ( Sheba Baby 1975). the same way his men murdered Pilot. Once Shark nods consent, the men throw her overboard. Quick thinking Sheba uses the knife to cut herself loose before being back on the boat a nd bravely fights the villains with a vengeance ( Sheba, Baby 1975). Sheba epitomizes an ordinary young woman, whose bravery, vigilantism, and love for family drives her into dangerous situations. She does not know kung fu or karate, and she is punched and slapped multiple times once she gets back onto the boat. But at the first available opportunity, she gets up, grabs her gun, and chases Shark as he attempts to escape in the yacht. Shooting a nearby guard in a speedboat, she takes control of the boat to continue her pursuit of Shark. After the police join the chase, Shark is shot, as his boat runs into a dock and blows up ( Sheba, Baby 1975). Sheba, now at peace, has exacted vengeance and justice is served.
103 woman who took control of a bad situation that hurt her family. In an interview with the Washington Post death, getting rid of pushers. And the wom en were all strong. They said stand up for your rights. The reactions [from moviegoers] pleased me" (Trescoll, 1977). When looking at the blaxploitation genre as a whole, a lot of the first films such as Shaft (1971), Super Fly (1972), and Sweet Sweetback 's Baadasssss Song (1971) represented male vigilante heroes who used women as vehicles to accomplish their ultimate goal; sex, abuse, violence or revenge (Reid, 1993). However, films such as Coffy Foxy Brown and Sheba, Baby reversed the hero dynamic by s howing women (or at least one) as the hero. In his book, Redefining Black Film films represented a hybrid like subgenre within the blaxploitation film industry: The hybrid black action film presents a hero who is determined by race gender, and, to a lesser extent, by class. The hybrid subtype depicts white males as the hero's sole obstacle and the possession of white and black females as vehicles for the hero's salvation. The hybrid action narrative merely inverts the racial aspect of white patriarchy, making it a black patriarchal system (Reid, 1993). As evident in Coffy Foxy Brown and Sheba, Baby Grier epitomizes the hybrid subgenre Reid described, which allows for deeper understanding of the struggles faced. So often in male dominated films, women are marginalized in their sorrows, trials, and accomplishments and used only to forward the plot or add a thrilling and/or entertainment element. Arguably, male dominated films of the blaxploitation genre mirrored the prevailing pol 1993; Liebman, 2009; Mendieta, 2007; Weaver, 2006; Quinn, 2012). According to Reid (1993) the two subtypes represent the dualistic nature of American race and gender
104 relations as well as the dema nds of American moral conventions requiring that criminals never escape punishment. Ironically, black heroes escape punishment because, according to black action film conventions, blacks are the victims of a white patriarchal system. In both subtypes, blac k heroes have an insatiable appetite for females, material objects, and violence; this permits the narrative to gloss over a wide range of African American life experiences. She h ad to contend with male directors and producers and fight for her voice to be heard regarding realistic portrayal of the content. She also had to deal with the backlash of the audience reception and resistance of resonating notions in the film, and she had to perpetuate a highly controversial and criticized notion of vigilantism as an effective way to respond to violence. Her agenda in the film was not unprovoked violence, but responding in kind to physical, emotional, and mental attacks. In short, Grier wa s aware of the patriarchal political dynamic of the time and used a perspective varying from governmental and social racist and sexist ideals (Braxton, 2010; Chrisman, 2006; Dagbovie, 2007; Quinn, 2012). In her autobiography, Foxy: My Life in Three Acts ( 2010), Grier articulated her so strongly she was willing to fight for awareness through her characters fighting on the screen. She literally fought (physically) in the films, while figuratively fighting (intellectually and politically) with directors and producers in making the film. Her vigilante centered notion transcended
105 the big screen although not with the same violent force. She fought for what she believed in, stuck to her principles, and did not back down. From this view point, her vigilantism is synonymous with courage. Autho r, poet done enough Freedom 2012). Likewise, Pam Grier was pos itioned as a woman who will do anything to exact revenge and fight for a cause. This concept was highlighted on the big screen. In Foxy: My Life in Three Acts (2010), Grier (1970): The black woman is demanding a new set of female definitions and recognition of herself as a citizen, companion and confidant, not a matriarchal villain or a step stool baby maker. Role integration advocates the complementary recognition of man and woman, not the competitive recognition of same (p. 1). This progressive notion advocated a new way of thinking that encouraged black women to redefine themselves according to personal ideals and perceptions. It also inspired the rejection of the role soc iety imposed on them. No longer were black women forced to accept tyranny, disrespect, and abuse from men and women, instead, they could choose to take destiny into their own hands and forge a new role for themselves as strong, empowered women.
106 Figure 4 1 Pam Grier and Antonio Fargas as Foxy and Link Figure 4 2 Foxy grabbing the key with her tongue
107 Figure 4 3 Sheba kissing Brick Figure 4 4 Coffy captive Figure 4 5 Coffy pointing a gun at Howard
108 Figure 4 6 ns Figure 4 7 Sheba armed with a gun and wet suit
109 CHAPTER 5 CONCLUSION The blaxploitation genre was a complex ideological construct criticizing racism and promoting black empowerment in the cinema. Overwhelming controversy surrounded this genre becau se of the graphically violent scenes, negative public notions criticizing current sociopolitical ideological constructs, and often contradictory notions of female empowerment. One common critique was that the hyper sexualization of women was oppressive and and s ociety (Bogle, 2001; Chrisman, 2006; Clark, 2000; Sims, 2006; Weiner, 2009). Additionally, author and scholar Sundiata Keita Cha films were uneven individually and as a genre. Most were poorly made, and several 213). Although analyzed and critiqued, one courageous actress, Pam Grier, used blaxploitation films as a n apparatus to defy prevailing social norms both on and off the screen. For example, as opposed to the originating blaxploitation films, which glorified courageous women who insis ted on responding to violence with violence. This hybrid subgenre of blaxploitation films promoted female liberation, empowerment and confidence. This bold notion was not evident in historical black centric cinema; nor was it a common theme in blaxploitati on films with lead male characters. It was a Additionally, Grier was more involved in film production than many female actres ses, because she had a voice in the style, direction and presentation of the film.
110 The director Jack Hill was amenable to changes Grier suggested. Also, Quentin Tarantino wrote a film with a plot designed specifically for Grier (Quinn, 2012; Sims, 2006; Taylor, 1998; Weiner, 2009). In Coffy, Foxy Brown and Sheba, Baby, major themes; female empowerment, vigilantism and revenge, and an analysis of the emotional element of her character. While variations of all three themes are interconnected, each film emphasized one particular theme over another. For example, thematic structure was female empowerment through embracing hyper sexualization to promote gender equity. Foxy Brown exemplified the vigilante centered theme, and Sheba, Baby allowed audience members emotional perspective. Attached to each theme are theoretical constructs that represent For example, female empowerment theme (Chapter 2) correlated with social construction of reality determined societal perceptions that relegated women to the real dualistic oppression construct which exemplified multi faceted levels of oppression imposed on black women. Foxy Brown used physical brutality with a vengeance (Chapter 3). Th e underlying force controlling her extremism was directly related to her love interest and dedication to family despite prevailing racist sentiment imposed on black women by white men, black men, and especially white women.
111 theory took racist elements of the feminist equity, or the lack thereof, for black confident and empowered women, hinted at a change in status for all African Americans, but for women in particular. Essentially, she embraced and loudly promoted developed into a theoretical assertion by Hill Collins, (1991). A deeper look into the motivations behind the rage and vigilantism (Chapter 4) revealed a strong appreciation for and dedication to family. In Sheba, Baby, family loyalty was more evident tha n in Coffy or Foxy Brown Additionally, the hyper subgenre with a resonating tone of taking care of her father. t, to fully comprehend the substantial effect of her characters, and the characters of the blaxploitation genre as a whole, the prevailing social and political notions must be examined. In his book, China Forever: The Shaw Brothers and Diasporic Cinema, sc holar Cha Jua (2008) connected the overall construct of the blaxploitation genre in reference to the appeal of militant violence, with the appeal of kung fu to black audiences. He argued that one of the major appeals for black audiences was breaking of rac ial and gendered tropes in society: The black martial arts audience, however, complicates, if not transcends, kung fu movies in the social relations of domination and resistance, specifically
112 in the dialectical relationship between black racial oppression and the Black Freedom movement (p.200). Similarly, the blaxploitation genre contained a superfluous amount o which African Americans can identify and vicariously resist, retaliate and dominate the abuse and terror imposed through societal oppression. Cha Jua (2008) said the blaxploitation films served two purposes. First, most black audiences un derstood that much of the current violence imposed in their neighborhoods was a result of social racist sentiment. The genre gave them an outlet to appreciate the resistant of racial social movements without fear of negative to the time period, black audiences were keenly aware of the unprovoked violence unleashed upon civil rights demonstrators. They were also cognizant of the governmental violence to contain the urban insurrections and the repression of Black Power militant s and radicals. Moreover, police brutality was routine The second purpose served, according to Cha Jua, was deviation from traditional representations of black characters in film that appealed to black audiences. Traditiona l cinematic structure offered limited portrayal of black actors, as buffoons or rapists (Chapter 1). Even more limited, women were portrayed as mammies or in some situation of servitude. He said, The use of defensive or retaliatory violence reflected belief s and practices that were endemic to Black Power nationalism, and as a central plot device in blaxploitation films it not only bequeathed morality to black and their protagonists fr om the Sambo and mammy images in cinematic Jua, 2008, p. 209). In short, the blaxploitation genre was innovative in the perception of black Americans, not just in those films, but society as a whole.
113 It is incredibly important to examine the bl axploitation genre, Civil Rights Movement, and feminist movement thoroughly. It is equally important to disseminate said examinations in an accurate and thought provoking manner. Too often, the gravity social movements are overlooked. A cursory glance at history in the public school system combined with the monotonous teaching style of some academics can create apathy for the movements of that decade. urnal article, Reexamining the Montgomery bus boycott: Toward an empathetic pedagogy of the Civil Rights Movement criticized the historical re telling of the Civil Rights Movement. He mes, mainly Martin Luther King, marginalizing other prominent, though lesser known, Civil Rights activists. He also argued the historical interpretation represented to students is a watered down version of the extremism exerted in the fight for racial equi ty. Exploring the blaxploitation film gen re from a historically accurate perspective through books and journal articles (Maguire, 2010; Reid, 1993; Sims, 2006) combined with theoretical concepts associated with the resonating ideology of the time and a textual analysis of Grier s three most prominent themes within the blaxploitation genre can raise awareness in society. It is essential to change the current perception of the truth; intrigue; and appreciation for the hardships endured, sacrifices made, and overall societal progression achieved. In short, awareness can lead to open dialogue and exchange of ideas.
114 Before the blaxploitation genre, the only outlet for criticizing the socially constructed racist sentiment was through civil disobedience (Martin Luther King) or militant violence (Black Panther Pa rty). Also, a social movement is only as strong as the most ignorant individual in the community. An ill informed member could feel isolated in the community and refuse to engage in rhetoric promoting change. Blaxploitation films allowed for inclusive opin ions and offered, to even the most acutely aware person, a political notion to assess. Additionally, blaxploitation films allowed passive, but well informed observers in black communities to agree with and promote independent, rebellious, and violent respo nses to abuse and oppression without physically joining a cause. When playing in theatres, the genre provided an arena to share political opinions and judgments regarding the current political failures as represented in the films. Finally, we address and questions (Chapter 1). Research Question 1 asked if Foxy Brown Coffy and Sheba, Baby propagate a notion of empowerment through vigilantism and hyper d genre of blaxploitation rendered a positive representation of female sexualization. She was not a pawn used for voyeuristic pleasure, but an active participant in militant style operations and used her sexuality as an advantageous and expedient opportuni ty to create distractions allowing accomplishment of her goals. Research Question 2 was dependent on findings from Research Question 1. of female empowerment; Research Question 2 asked if that notion was intended for black women. The continual disenfranchisement of black women, by white men, black
115 Coffy, Foxy Brown, or Sheba, Baby. Instead, the lead actress was a black woman, aware of political motivations in the film and an active participant in fighting for change. For example, Coffy was well aware of the corruption eviscerating the police department. The o fficers would accept bribes for protection against legal ramifications imposed on drug dealers. Similarly, character recognized the importance of eliminating corrupt organizations by destroying members at the top. Steve and Katherine, the vill ains in Foxy Brown, ran a dual operation that supplied drugs to dealers and solicited women as prostitutes to judges and other powerful people as payment for exonerati on of any captured drug dealers Finally, Research Question 3 asked if the resonating ideology constructed in Foxy Brown, Coffy, and Sheba, Baby was accepted by the general public. Research accepted by mostly middle class African Americans. Also, Hollywood film studios supported, for a short time, blaxploitation films for capitalist gain. These films were inexpensive to conceive, execute and disseminate and earned a gross income substantiall y higher than the costs (Blake, 1982; Chicago Defender, 1973; Jet, 1974; Jordan, 1972; Kelleher, 1982; Rust, 2010; Variety, 1973; Weiner, 2006). For example, punishment and physical brutality differed for males and females. While some aspects of brutality were the same, such as
116 punching and shooting, the major difference in physical punishment was men were punished physically but never sexually violated throug h penetration or molestation (Maguire, 2010). In contrast, there was a rape scene in Foxy Brown and an attempted rape scene in Coffy. Specific brutality toward women such as rape, in addition to beatings and shootings, revealed subliminal sexist notions, e ven in films that promote empowerment, because of the still existing, common understanding that rape was and is an effective means of humiliating, chastising, and disempowering women. While Grier rose above her situation in the rape scenes, the illuminatio n of said scenes revealed social notions of rape as an apparatus for oppression (Advertising dangers, 2001; Grubb and Harrower, 2009; McMahon and Farmer, 2011). The limitation can be addressed with future research indicating a change in modern society reg arding rape as empowering and connecting the rape scenes in resiliency during the rape scenes; but, the fact that there was a rape scene for her, but not for male characters rev ealed the deeply ingrained sexist ideology that women can be devastatingly disempowered by rape, and men do not have the concern of potential sexual violation, but instead have the power to impose oppression on women through rape. The film s revealed this no tion subliminally and not directly. Despite limitations, awareness and appreciation for historical figures fighting oppression and advocating equity is essential to the continual progression of American society. Racial inequity has existed since legal slaver y. With the Emancipation Proclamation, steps toward equity were taken but still very far away. I argu e that racial and gender equity are not merely political issue to be evaluated and assessed in
117 Congress or demarcated between the resonating tropes separat ing Republicans and Democrats; black women and white women; or corporate agendas. My study was designed to provoke a healthy dialogue regarding racial and gender equality through interconnected notions of theoretical constructs, historical analysis, and re sonating political notions. Social equity is a complex, controversial and exasperating human rights issue that should be inalienable and inclusive to all members of society. The lack of such inclusivity is indicative of the need for change. In summation, the Congressman from Georgia, John Lewis, perfectly captures the problem with oppression. He referenced slavery specifically to honor the upcoming 150 th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln signing the Emancipation Proclamation (Freedom, 2012); however his philosophy can be applied to all individuals suffering from a ny type of oppression. H e said : Slavery was a vicious evil that had to come to an end. The Emancipation Proclamation was a defining moment in human history that set this nation on a path to liberate one people from human bondage and another from the crime of human enslavement. Lincoln liberated not just a people, but our entire nation, and every nation we touch around the globe today. Human slavery still exists, and this proclamation still a ttests to the inalienable rights of every human being. It says, in effect, that humans were not created to be slaves, but in the image of God almighty, a little
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125 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH Theresa Campbell graduated from the Univer sity of Florida with her Master of Arts in M ass Communication in t he summer of 2013 Theresa brings teaching and communications experience, having taught public relations courses and provided public relations and communications support to the University of Florida Performing Arts Center. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Florida. Her research interests involve assessing the notions of gender and race in film (particularly Pam Grier ones) and the representation of women in video games.