Decades before the breakthrough Marvel superhero pic “Black Panther” became a global blockbuster, earning hundreds of millions in grosses and providing breathless copy for front-page stories about every aspect of the groundbreaking African-American creative production team, there were “blaxploitation” films, packed with action, muscle, humor and featuring nearly all-black casts.
Some credit the creation of the genre to black maverick filmmaker Melvin Van Peebles, whose edgy indie actioner “Sweet Sweetback’s Badasssss Song” exploded at the box office in 1971, leading to a decade of popular black film adventures. As Black History Month celebrations in February drew attention to the myriad social and cultural achievements of the black community, one of the biggest stars of the blaxploitation genre celebrates his 80th birthday in March.
After making his name as a nationally celebrated sports star in the ’60s, AFL All-Star defensive back Fred “The Hammer” Williamson became one of the top blaxploitation stars of the ’70s in films such as “Hell Up in Harlem” and “Black Caesar.” Williamson was never a shrinking violet, on the field or on the screen. On Oct. 29, 1974, he took out this ad (see image above) stating, “Fred Williamson is not a black actor, Fred Williamson is an actor” in Variety to make a point that is sadly still relevant in a world where, decades later, the #OscarsSoWhite movement was created to address Hollywood’s continuing racial divide.