Exploiting Who? Fred Williamson’s Revolutionary Heroes in 1970s Blaxploitation Film

Date Film Time
10/13 Three The Hard Way FREE 7 pm
10/14 Bucktown FREE 7 pm
Join us for this celebration of the many talents of Northwestern University alumnus Fred Williamson, who will be in attendance to introduce and discuss two of his greatest starring roles. A professional football player-turned-actor/filmmaker, Williamson is one of the most iconic directors and stars of 1970s black action films (commonly referred to as “Blaxploitation” a term which Williamson amongst others believes was coined to discredit the films). Fred Williamson had three rules for Hollywood executives: he doesn’t die, he wins every fight, and he gets the girl in the end… if he wants her. Williamson created and preserved his on-screen persona from the ghettoized roles for black men that plagued Hollywood pre-1970. The rise of black films in the 1970s provided opportunities to present black culture in a new way. Williamson played heroes who work outside of the law (the power of the oppressors) to fight for the oppressed. There is a revolutionary spirit to these films. Racism and corruption (behind desks or badges) are the villains in 1974’s Three The Hard Way and 1975’s Bucktown. Though the films simplify these systemic problems into “flesh and blood” bad guys who can be fought and killed, there is something to be said for the boldness of presenting these social issues to a mainstream audience and the impact of creating black heroes who overcome this symbolic oppression. In 2016, over 40 years after both films were originally released, their representation of systemic racism and oppression is depressingly just as relevant and resonant. But these films are important for the same reason they were then: they propagate a call to action and, as Williamson recognized, because it is refreshing to see the heroes win.

Three The Hard Way

Thursday, October 13, 2016 7:00 PM FREE
(Gordon Parks, Jr., 1974, USA, 16mm, 105 min.)

With its ensemble cast, non-stop action, and a storyline that has to be seen to be believed, Three The Hard Way is a high point for the Blaxploitation genre. Three friends (Williamson, Jim Brown, and Jim Kelly) team up to get to the bottom of a kidnapping. While investigating, the group uncovers a genocidal Neo-Nazi plot involving a specialized poison wiping out the black populations of Washington D.C., Los Angeles, and Detroit. Between this film and 1972’s Superfly, Parks Jr. made his own distinctive cinematic mark as a director, stepping out of his (photographer, writer, and Shaft director) father’s large shadow. The Impressions provide the soundtrack as well as make a cameo. Referred to as “The Big Three,” Williams, Brown and Kelly went on to team up in two other films, Take a Hard Ride and One Down, Two to Go.  

Williamson will be in attendance and in conversation with Professor Harvey Young following the screening.


Friday, October 14, 2016 7:00 PM FREE
(Arthur Marks, 1975, USA, 35mm, 94 min.)

Duke Johnson (Williamson) arrives in Bucktown for his recently deceased brother’s funeral and quickly discovers that the town is run by a racist police force that uses violence and murder as intimidation to extort money from local business. Duke calls for backup from old friends (including Thalmus Rasulala and Carl Weathers) and together they lead an all-out war against the corruption of the city. There is a strong link between the Blaxploitation and Western genres, and this is a prime example; a stranger rides into town and restores order. Williamson’s Duke is a revolutionary in contemporary America, fighting against the injustices of this microcosm of the United States.

Williamson will be in attendance and in conversation with Professor Harvey Young following the screening.