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70s Berlin
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Shaft, Superfly, Mahogany and more...

By Marianne Bunyan

When these movies came to the big screen - usually before the main feature, Shaft - it was a real kick for everyone at the IT. After the movies came to Berlin, the gestures started to become even wilder and the conversations sometimes a little dumber. I remember that a young, stylish man in a pink suit started to act more aggressively after he saw some of the movies. One night he asked for one of my slim cigarettes and when I told him that they wouldn't suit him, that they were cigarettes for ladies, he went berzerk. What he took that to mean was that they were only for whites, which wasn't what I meant, and I think he knew it. He began to grab me and the people surrounding us had to get hold of him and drag him off me.

Black films had an important influence in those days. Whites saw blacks as heroes for the first time. Racism was dealt with in a way that even the most stupid of rednecks would understand. The main thing that these movies illustrated to the (mostly white) audiences in Berlin at the time was how cool, funny and most of all proud to be black the characters were. The broader audiences just had to notice that the black community was there. And from a business perspective, they represented a new, powerful group of consumers too. For the first time, every white wanted to be darker somehow. To share some of that pride and some of that attitude. There was no understanding. So ignorance turned into admiration. Suddenly it was cool to be black. Black artists were hip, TV heroes got black and Hollywood opened up to black actors and actresses.

"Mahogany" with Diana Ross was the first movie in which a black woman was portrayed as a diva. Diana's beauty was suddenly noticed by whites. Damn, she's hot! And Richard Roundtree in Shaft looked so good that the action didn't matter to us. "Fuck yourself, sweetie" was a favorite feminist saying that hit us all hard. For that line to be spoken by a woman, a black woman at that, to a macho action hero like Shaft, was unbelievable. That had to impress everyone. Isaac Hayes' soundtrack was equally incredible. That record used to get played day and night at home and just as many times down at the IT. Before Shaft there was no film like it, and no soundtrack that damn good. In Shaft, almost every scene had its own musical theme. We remembered each scene and associated the scene with its own melody, which was radically new and completely overwhelming.

After that there was a crazy movie called Car Wash. A cool soundtrack and a black fag were just parts of this party. Oh my God, where was all this going to lead to? It was exactly what the youth wanted to see. Nothing could be too crazy or too far-out to be depicted on the big screen. We had had enough of that 1960s stiffness. You were always told to work, to do what the others do, to take care not to shock someone, otherwise you wouldn't ever be somebody and wouldn't get anywhere.

The loud outfits of the 70s were the beginning of the soft revolution: heels were a little bit higher, hair a little bit longer. Something as straightforward as an Afro came as a shock to conventional society, and then there was the issue of a black boyfriend: that had to be the most shocking thing there was at that time, even if it was just a cinema fantasy.

All site contents ©2001 blaxploitation.com. The author has asserted his moral rights. Cover scans, album reviews, all other text content and/or pictures may only be used by prior permission of the.man@blaxploitation.com. But what the hell, I'm a nice guy, so drop me a line!