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Sounds on Screen: Blaxploitation


Marking roughly 50 years since the coining of the phrase "blaxploitation" by NAACP leader Junius Griffin, NTS explores the endlessly inventive Black sonics that were inexplicably linked with this often controversial but undeniably adventurous moment in film history. Featuring music from Roy Ayers, Isaac Hayes, Sun Ra and more.

Created with the help of Criterion Collection's Curatorial Director Ashley Clark:

Beginning in the early 1970s, a new wave of Black-focused cinema, with one foot in exploitation thrills and the other in avant-garde provocation, sent shockwaves through American film audiences. It soon became known as "Blaxploitation", a term reportedly minted by Junius Griffin, then president of the Beverly Hills chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Griffin's term certainly wasn't coined with flattering intent, but if "Blaxploitation" was deployed to criticize sensationalized images of African Americans, there was far more to this boom than simple stereotypes. It cemented a new generation of stars for the Black-is-beautiful era (Pam Grier, Richard Roundtree), afforded them meaty roles as characters with vibrant, anti-establishment emotional, physical and sexual agency, and created vital opportunities for daring Black filmmakers to experiment behind the camera. Major films of the era included Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, Shaft, Superfly and Foxy Brown, but there was room, too, for unclassifiable, mind-expanding efforts that defied genre by incorporating elements of Afrofuturism, surrealism, psychedelia, and Black mysticism. What's more, these disparate films were inextricably linked by the constant presence on their soundtracks and scores of boundless Black musical sonic invention, from the brassiest funk and sweetest soul, to the skronkiest, most far-out jazz imaginable. Taken together, these films offer a fuller picture of a time when Black artists both in front of and behind the camera, and on the soundtracks, were breaking political and aesthetic boundaries to reclaim their image.


  • Herbie Hancock 
  • James Brown 
    People Get Up And Drive Your Funky Soul
  • Isaac Hayes 
    The Insurance Company
  • Excerpt
    Top Of The Heap (Edit)(Top Of The Heap, Dir. Christopher St. John, 1972)
  • J. J. Johnson & His Orch. Ft. Geraldine Jones & Marti McCall
    Theme Fronm 'Top Of The Heap'
  • Excerpt
    Coffy (Edit) (Coffy, Dir. Jack Hill, 1974)
  • Roy Ayers 
    Brawling Broads
  • Excerpt
    Shaft (Edit) (Shaft, Dir. Gordon Parks, 1971)
  • Isaac Hayes 
    Theme From Shaft
  • Gene Page 
    Wakeeli (Swahili Farewell)
  • Excerpt
    Lord Shango (Edit)(Lord Shango, Dir. Ray Marsh, 1975)
  • Howard Roberts feat. Miss Ella Mitchell, The Howard Roberts Chorale & Orchestra, The Staples Community Choir Of Knoxville, Tennessee 
  • Luchi DeJesus 
    The Assassins / The Pidgeon / Hit
  • Luchi DeJesus 
    Don't Drop The Soap / Final Solution
  • Rose Royce, Norman Whitfield feat. The Pointer Sisters, Richard Pryor 
    I'm Going Down
  • Roy Ayers 
    Coffy Sauna
  • Sam Waymon feat. Nadi Qamar 
    Theme From Blood Couple
  • Excerpt
    Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (Edit) (Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, Dir. Melvin Van Peebles, 1971)
  • Melvin Van Peebles feat. Brer Soul, Earth Wind & Fire 
    Sweetback Getting It Uptight And Preaching It So Hard The Bourgeois Reggin Angels In Heaven Turn Around
  • Melvin Van Peebles feat. Brer Soul, Earth Wind & Fire 
    Wont Bleed Me
  • Curtis Mayfield 
  • Nat Dove & The Devils 
    Loving You (Instrumental)
  • Excerpt
    Dolemite (Edit) (Dolemite, Dir. D’Urville Martin, 1975)
  • Rudy Ray Moore 
    The Jive Jungle
  • Sam Waymon feat. Nadi Qamar 
    The Blood Of The Thing (Part 1)
  • Sun Ra 
    Cosmic Forces
  • Sun Ra 
    We'll Wait For You