Babes, Bullets and Blaxploitation: A Coffy retrospective

Sex and Fury
September 24, 2012
Join our Pornography Panel Debate
October 8, 2012
By Melanie Mulholland and Bradley Tuck

 

Coffy is a perfect example the Blaxploitation tradition. This isn’t arty experimental cinema, but boy does it pack action, revenge, intrigue and that ever so achingly cool afro-centric 70’s slick style into every second managing to craft a powerful and exciting identity all its own. With a bullet-fast wit and style, this is kick ass action at its best: Sassy, vengeful women, drugs, revenge, hipster pimps, racial politics and, of course, the obligatory sex and violence. Coffy is an excellently well-written piece of genre cinema that has more than earned its place along-side the likes of Shaft, et al. If Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song and Shaft define the two ends of Blaxsploitation cinema, Coffy sits more towards the commercial Shaft than the psychedelic experimental Sweetback, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t all killer and no filler. Every part of the story makes sense, holds your attention and is kept at the perfect pace; fast, edgy and filled to the brim with action enough to whet any juicehead’s shoot-em-up appetite. That said, it’s not all bullets and boobs! The back-story of Coffy and her reasoning behind her quest to rain shit on all the pimps and pushers in the tri-state area has emotion behind it, it isn’t all cold metal and one-liners. Coffy has had to see the devastation that such people have caused first-hand and not to mention her sister being a victim of these heartless criminals. They more than deserve their comeuppance and Coffy is the one who wants to serve it to ’em hot, black and never sweet. Following on from our previous article about Sex and Fury, we are going to, yet again, mention the Tarantino element. Tarantino LOVES a bad bitch, and Coffy’s cup floweth-over. (Ok enough, Coffee puns, I promise)

 

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Coffy, played by Pam Grier, is the central character of the film. She is a nurse, whose sister is receiving care after a drug overdose. She is after justice and there ain’t nobody gonna stand in her way. “This is the end of your rotten life, you motherfucking dope pusher!” She snarls as she fires a bullet through a dealers head. Oh but she’s only just begun on her tirade of annihilation, she wants to trace this corruption right to the top. What’s great about this film is that she not only encounters criminals and pimps, but police and politicians too demonstrating how deep corruption goes. Coffy is the great underdog and knows how to outwit her enemies. She is cunning and clever and shouldn’t be underestimated. Not afraid to use her body and sexuality to slither in without suspicion into the most precarious of places, she’ll lull her prey into a sexual trance and attack just when he’s at his most vulnerable. There is just something so satisfying about the demise of the bad guy at the hands of the righteous, but, and as repeated throughout cinema, there has to be great suffering before the pay-off. There is something fragile yet ambivalent about Coffy and her mission to rid the world of these scumbag drug-pushers. She’s like a sexy, black, female version of The Terminator or that demon car from …The Car.

 

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As with the most Blaxploitation films the soundtrack is peppered with soul and funk music that makes a commentary throughout. “Coffy is the colour” is the opening track and racial politics is very rarely far beneath the surface. In many ways this is a film about the predominantly black ghettos of America and racism in the 70’s. At one point a black politician admits “For Christ sake, Black, Brown or yellow, I’m in it for the green, the green buck.” Already suggesting how racial inequality and drug crime are partly underpinned, not simply by racism, but by capitalism itself. For some characters in this film the desire for money trumps the desire for racial equality. This film emerges with a surge of African American Cinema that came out of the radical spirit of the civil rights protest. Unlike the African American cinema of the 1930’s and 40’s (think for example of Stormy Weather or Songs of the South) these film weren’t merely smiling happy family entertainment with song and dance numbers, these films where gritty, empowering and cool-as-fuck. In this sense films such as Sweet Sweetback’s Badaasssss SongCoffy and Coon Skin weren’t afraid to challenge their audience and leave them uncomfortable. Blaxploitation was huge in the seventies and covered a large variety of genres from horror parodies (BlaculaBlackenstein) to Nazisploitation (The Black Gestapo). This was the emergence of a film genre that was both commercial and campy, challenging, experimental and shocking. In many ways Cinema is no longer like this. It is, at least, not as extensive as it was and many filmmakers shy away from challenging race head on. Maybe some of the films that best encapsulate this style are found in the work of Spike lee and Quentin Tarantino, whose film Jackie Brown casts Pam Grier in the lead role, a direct nod to films such as Coffy and Foxy Brown . But I for one would love to see a re-emergence of Blaxploition Cinema, taking the genre in new challenging directions, attacking racism and prejudice without offering the same politically correct clichés that keep the issues stuck out of view. Viva la Revolution cinématique!

 

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