Phony or For Real? “Boss Nigger” Movie Trailer

OK, is this Phony or For Real?

It’s for real, folks. Boss Nigger is a 1975 blaxploitation movie that stars former football player Fred Williamson, who also wrote and co-produced the film.

Boss Nigger is the last of a trilogy of films featuring the character “Nigger Charley,” a runaway slave played by Williamson. Character actor D’urville Martin also appeared in all three films as Amos, a fellow ex-slave and comic sidekick. After killing a brutal slave master on his plantation, Charley heads to the Old West to live as a free man.

The first film of the trilogy, The Legend of Nigger Charley, was released in 1972, at the start of the blaxploitation craze. According to Wikipedia, Legend was one of Paramount Studio’s highest-grossing movies of 1972. The second movie in the series was The Soul of Nigger Charley.

NCharley2
Movie poster for The Legend of Nigger Charley

In Boss Nigger, Charley and Amos are bounty hunters who come upon a small town in need of a sheriff. The town is also having a problem with a band of outlaws led by Jed Clayton, a villain who’s wronged Charley in the past. After a number of events, including the death of a young black woman at the hands of white murderers, there’s a showdown that features the death of the bad guy in slow-motion glory.

The dialogue in the trailer seems silly, and that was partly intentional. The Nigger movies were a parody of classic and not-so-classic Westerns, but also, they were typical 1970s blaxploitation fare, rife with comical put-downs of stereotypical white characters.

The word “nigger” is used freely, for both its shock value and just as important, its mock value. In this context, the word is used to make fun of both white folk’s use of the word, but black folks’ use of the word too.

But when looked at through the prism of today’s values, the use of what is now called the N word is either absurdly funny or outrageously offensive, depending on your mindset. It was movies like these that led to a backlash against the N word-it would be politically impossible to make this kind of movie today. (There are actually videos on the Internet featuring Obama that use the Boss Nigger theme song, and I thought, for one-tenth of a second, about putting it on this blog entry. But the idea was just too radioactive for me.)

Boss Nigger was released in some areas under the title The Boss or The Black Bounty Killer. In 2008, the movie was released in DVD under the titled Boss.

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Check It Out: Links of Interest, 4/13/09

Here are links to some recommended reads.

Abagond has a blog entry about actress Ellen Holly:

Ellen Holly (1931- ) is an American actress, the first black actress ever to appear regularly on a soap opera. She played Carla Hall on “One Life to Live” from 1968 to 1985. She also played the president’s wife in “School Daze” (1988).

Holly grew up in New York, the daughter of a chemical engineer and a librarian. She studied acting at Hunter College and went on from there to act on stage. By 1956 she was on Broadway. She got in to the Actors Studio, the first black woman ever to do so. She later got parts in film and television too.

In 1968 Holly wrote a letter to the editor of the New York Times about what it was like to be a light-skinned black woman. Agnes Dixon, who was then starting a new soap called “One Life to Live”, read that letter. It led her to create the character of Carla Gray (later Hall). She offered the part to Holly herself. Holly took it and became the first regular black female character on a soap. Other soaps soon followed their lead and had black characters of their own too.

I remember watching Holly on One Life to Live as a teenager. At the time, I didn’t appreciate that she was breaking new ground for black actors in the soaps.

I can see why so many people thought she was white: it wasn’t until the late 1960s that color TVs started selling in large numbers. On black and white TV, her light skin did make her look white.

She started out on the show doing a story line where she is a black person passing for white. A white male character on the show actually proposed to her, but she had to reject the proposal because she was not white. I later found out that the theme of the “tragic mulatto who passes for white” was a not an uncommon one for Hollywood (see Imitation of Life). But at the time, I was shocked that this kind of race-sensitive stuff was being shown on daytime television.
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Monroe, Louisiana is a city of about 50,000 in north central Louisiana. It’s about a half hour drive from Grambling University. The following is from a recent story in the Monroe Free Press, which is one of the city’s African American newspapers:

Monroe: The city where it’s safe to say Nigga
City won’t fire or reprimand foul mouthed department heads

It started a few years back when we started reporting about the tendency of our police chief to curse and use extremely foul and graphic language publicly. In one instance he even told the police chief of Sterlington to get under the table and suck his…

There were no reprimands, lost days of pay, or other slaps on the wrist. The subliminal message is that such language is acceptable for department heads…

The most recent problems occurred this year when Sean Benton the Superintendent of Monroe’s Water Distribution plant was accused of referring to black employees of his department as Niggas and routinely using foul language and expletives in his references to others. Police had to be called once when Benton took off his shirt to fight a subordinate…

What raises eyebrows is that Benton is black. Most of his “Nigga” comments were made to blacks. The issue that this raises is whether or not “Nigga” is an generally offensive by whites but acceptable when used by blacks.

Because Benton has not been fired or reprimanded by the city’s black mayor it appears to be an endorsement of “Nigga” as acceptable language for a black professional in a department head status to use toward subordinates.

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There’s been a slew of articles written in the past year or so about Tyler Perry. A recent piece about him in Entertainment Weekly, titled Tyler Perry: The Controversy Over His Hit Movies, claims to go “inside black America’s secret culture war”:

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