That’s Blaxploitation! 12: COTTON COMES TO HARLEM (United Artists 1970)

cracked rear viewer

I’m not really sure if COTTON COMES TO HARLEM qualifies as a Blaxploitation film. Most genre experts point to Melvin Van Peebles’ SWEET SWEETBACK’S BADASSSSS SONG and/or Gordon Parks’s SHAFT , both released in 1971, as the films that kicked off the Blaxploitation Era. Yet this movie contains many of the Blaxploitation tropes to follow, and is based on the works of African-American writer Chester Himes.

Hardboiled author Chester Himes

Himes (1909-1984) began his writing career while doing a prison stretch for armed robbery. After his short stories started being published in Esquire, he was paroled in 1936, and soon met poet Langston Hughes, who helped him get established in the literary world. Reportedly, Himes worked for a time as a screenwriter for Warner Brothers in the 40’s, but was let go when a racist Jack Warner declared he “don’t want no n*ggers on this lot” (1). His first …

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Music Video of the Day: Sweet Home Alabama by Keenan West (2011, dir by Dean Bierschwal)

I’m going to be in Alabama for the next three days so, naturally, I decided that today’s music video should be Sweet Home Alabama.  Since the song was recorded before music videos were really a big thing, Lynard Skynard never did a video for their original recording.  However, I was able to find a video for Keenan West’s soulful cover version.

Sweet Home Alabama was originally recorded in 1973, as a response to a song by Neil Yong that was called Southern Man.  In that song, Neil Young looked down on the South from the safety of Canada and basically damned everything he saw.  In response, Ronnie Van Zant wrote:

Well, I heard Mister Young sing about her
Well, I heard ol’ Neil put her down
Well, I hope Neil Young will remember
A Southern man don’t need him around anyhow

Not surprisingly, Sweet Home Alabama has been a popular but controversial song in the past.  Over the years, several critics — mostly folks from up north who don’t really get nuance — have assumed that Sweet Home Alabama was meant to be some sort of right-wing political track.  What they miss is that the song is openly critical of Alabama’s segregationist governor.   (There’s a reason why there’s a chorus of “boo!  boo!  boo!” after the governor is mentioned.)  Sweet Home Alabama was less about defending the South and more about calling out the self-righteousness of northern activists who attacked the South while either ignoring or rationalizing the racism in their own back yard.

(And if you want argue with me about that interpretation, I’m going to need you to first read Common Ground by J. Anthony Lukas.  Don’t come at me unless you’re willing to discuss what happened in the early 70s when Boston attempted to integrate its schools.)

Anyway, this is a good cover version and nicely heartfelt video.