There are a handful of films that most commonly cited as the gateway to blaxploitation for the average viewer. The most popular of those seem to be titles like Shaft, Super Fly, Coffy, Car Wash, or The Mack. All of them are great films, and a great way to see what the elite films of the genre were like.
One of those films, however, stands out above the rest because its story digs below the surface of characters who live on the fringe of society, and the talented cast and crew deliver performances so memorable, they are still talked about 40 years later. That standout film is The Mack.
One of the biggest reasons The Mack stands out is because it’s easy to believe Max Julien really is Goldie, the ex-con who turns to pimping as a means of survival when released from a stint in the big house.
Max Julien’s impact on blaxploitation films, whether his films were technically blaxploitation or not, cannot be argued. He isn’t credited as a writer on The Mack, but he did contribute to the script and helped give it its authentic feel.
Julen burst onto the acting scene playing a revolutionary in the 1966 film The Black Klansman, and would go on to do some amazing work over the next decade or so, but then left film behind and focused on doing real, revolutionary work for real people, in real life.
Why We Love and Respect Him: In Addition to Max Julien essentially defining the look and character attributes of a big-time pimp, he also paved the way for the strong, black female character to be an ass-kicking machine with Cleopatra Jones. Julien wrote Cleopatra Jones with his then girlfriend in mind for the role, but Tamara Dobson would eventually get the part. Tamara was great, but we gotta give Max credit for developing the storyline in general, because it was this storyline that Pam Grier eventually rode to fame with Coffy, Foxy Brown, and Friday Foster. In that respect, Max begat Pam.
Best Known For: Pimpin’.
Blaxploitation Role Call:
The Black Klansman (1966) as Raymond, the Rabble Rouser: A black man infiltrates the KKK to avenge the death of a relative. Made just a few years before the concept of blaxploitation existed, it’s technically not in the genre was we see it today. First it wasn’t really developed as a vehicle to exploit black talent in order to appeal to a black audience. Second, it lacks a lot of the over-the-top elements that made the genre great. It is, however, a strong film, with a strong message, and Raymond’s role as the revolution-minded activist brought in to incite a cultural upheaval in the south is powerful.
Uptight (1989) as Johnny Wells: I honestly don’t know much about this film, but here’s what IMDB says: Black revolutionaries are betrayed by one of their own. Based on the 1935 classic, “The Informer.”
The Mack (1973) as Goldie: Goldie is an ex-con who sets out on the road to pimping after getting some advice from The Blind Man. He and his pal Slim, Richard Pryor, make waves in the underworld, and quickly become the biggest players in the game. This film is part of the core curriculum at Hip Hop Artist University.
Thomasine and Bushrod (1974) as Bushrod: Thomasine and Bushrod are a cople of criminals, per se, who target the extremely wealthy for robbery and then redistribute the haul among those who aren’t as fortunate. Despite having Julien as both a writer and lead actor, and being directed by Gordon Parks, Jr., it disappointed a lot of fans. Julien focused on efforts outside of film after this one was released.
This just proves movie critics don’t know shit.
Max Julien talks about Biggie and Tupac, and the visions he had when they died.
**Bonus Clip: Just for shits and giggles, we offer this refresher viewing of Dave Chappelle’s Playa Hater’s Ball, because it’s hard to watch old pimping movies without thinking about it at least once.