An Interview with Josiah Howard

I was recently blessed to do an interview with my man Josiah Howard.  For those of you that don’t know, Josiah is the author of the quintessential book on Blaxploitation movies, Blaxploitation Cinema: The Essential Reference Guide.  It was an honor and a privilege to be able to kick it with another hardcore Blaxploitation fiend!

Blaxploitation Paperbacks: You are now in your fourth printing of Blaxploitation Cinema: The Essential Reference Guide.  Congratulations!  When and how did your love of Blaxploitation begin?

Josiah Howard: I first became interested in the films through the poster art. There was a movie theater in my neighborhood called the Strand. I distinctly remember standing outside the theater and looking at the poster of Coffy for hours. This was 1973, making me 11 years old at the time: a very impressionable age. I had never really seen modern-looking young black people presented on film before. Those were the clothes I wanted to wear. That was the afro I wanted to have. That was the life I wanted to live. I also thought: “Look, we’re in the movies!”

BP: Some people consider the term Blaxploitation (and its movies) as offensive.  What’s your take on that?

JH: Ridiculous! The late great Gordon Parks wouldn’t let me interview him for Blaxploitation Cinema: The Essential Reference Guide because he had a problem with me calling Shaft a “Blaxploitation” film. Really? What’s the problem? Everything needs a label. Everything needs to be categorized—like it or not, that’s the way the world works. I think it’s a fun term: empowering. Let’s not forget it was an African-American publicist, Junius Griffin, who came up with it.

BP: I like to think of Blaxploitation as an “era” which not only consists of movies, but also music, books, television, clothing and more.  Is that crazy?

JH: Agreed. The movies informed popular culture at the time. Everything from advertising to sitcoms had a dose of Mack daddies and Foxy Mamas. So did the music. Isaac Hayes won an Oscar for “Theme From Shaft.” It was the No. 1 Pop song in America. I mean, would there have been the TV show “Get Christie Love!” if it weren’t for films like Coffy, Cleopatra Jones and TNT Jackson? On a side note, I always thought that Whitney Houston should have starred in a big screen adaption of Get Christie Love!

BP: My desire for reading and love of Blaxploitation movies led me to look for a cross of the two, thus leading to  Are you into the novels of the genre?  If so, what are some of the books/authors you’ve read?

Coffy in novel form

Novelized version of Coffy which starred Pam Grier.

JH: I don’t know a lot about the novels but I do know that,of course, many of the films originated in paperback form and were largely written by African-Americans. I think it’s great. Every aspect of the influence of the films should be documented. It’s particularly interesting to me that major motion pictures had movie tie-in paperbacks—based on the script of the film but written by someone other than the scriptwriter. I’m lucky enough to have “Coffy” and “Trouble Man” (I caught both films at a “Return Engagement” double feature!) in my collection.

BP: Are there any particular movie(s) you think would make for good novelization?

JH: That’s a hard one. I really love a film called Blind Rage. It’s a double entendre title: the picture tells the story of five blind men who plan and execute an elaborate bank robbery. I love the idea! I think this could be fleshed out as a novel—and is certainly ripe for a remake.

BP: What are the essential elements of a Blaxploitation “classic” whether it’s a movie, book, television show or music?

JH: Well, as I’ve pointed out before, these are stories first and foremost about young people. It’s not grandma’s journey or Aunt Bess’ reflections on life. These are sex, drugs and rock and roll (substitute Soul music!) stories that take place in America’s inner cities. They promote and expand upon black fantasies of making it big—in or outside the established system.

BP: I consider you to be the supreme aficionado of Blaxploitation movies so I have to ask: in your opinion, who is the coolest cat and the finest female to grace the Blaxploitation screen?

JH: Thank you for the compliment but I’m really just one of many passionate about the genre—yourself included!  In the female category I’m definitely partial to Pam Grier. I don’t think she’s the greatest actress in the world but she’s fascinating to watch. She has great screen impact and, to me, that’s just as powerful as being able to shake and cry on cue. As for the men of Blaxploitation I think that Jim Brown is probably the coolest. Fred Williamson is arguably the bigger star but I like Brown’s naturalness on screen. He never winks at the camera—he just plays it straight.

BP: I have a buddy of mine who’s deep into the genre also.  We try to trip each other up every now and then by calling or texting a line of dialogue to see if the other can catch what movie it’s from.  Is there any line that stands out for you from any film?  Also, do you know where this line came from: “Man, don’t later me when you clutching my coins!”

JH: LOL! I love the quote: do tell!  “I’m going to piss on your grave tomorrow” stands out as pretty memorable to me! (Pam Grier in Coffy). I also like “Boy is you on that dope again?” I’m not sure what movie it’s from but I’m sure that I heard my “Aunt” Cathy say this to her teenage son!

BP: By the way, the quote I mentioned is from Monkey Hustle.  Another thing I love about Blaxploitation movies and books is the covers and poster art.  I’m disappointed when the book or movie doesn’t live up to the excitement and expectation I had from seeing its cover.  In fact, to this day, I’m nervous about watching Sweet Jesus Preacherman because I don’t think the movie will be as great as the cover!  But what are some of your favorite movie posters or images from the genre?

JH: Well, you’re certainly right about Sweet Jesus Preacherman: it’s awful! So bad that when MGM issued their “all-inclusive” coffee table book “The MGM Story” they didn’t even mention it! I don’t mind that the poster art for many Blaxploitation films is often misleading and better than the actual films. That’s called inventive marketing.

Super Fly and Super Dude are two memorable posters for me: for different reasons. Super Fly is simply gorgeous: the car, the babe, the maxi coat! Super Dude  (what a title!) looks like a spoof: cartoonish, fantastical, and crudely drawn! I also love Slaughter, Brother on the Run and Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde.

Stay tuned for part 2…



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