While I am extremely grateful to the Reader for the "highly recommended" rating given to Schlock! The Secret History of American Movies in last week's CUFF reviews [August 17], I feel compelled to respond to the implicit charge of racism in your writer's criticism of the fact that "blaxploitation directors like Melvin Van Peebles are conspicuously absent" from our work.
Aside from a highly questionable labeling of Van Peebles as a "blaxploitation" filmmaker (the only one of his films that falls anywhere near that category is Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, and Van Peebles himself doesn't see that one as a "blaxploitation" film, or so he told me when I interviewed him for a magazine piece in 1998), your writer seems to have failed to notice that Schlock! The Secret History of American Movies examines exploitation filmmaking within a specific time frame: the era of the studio Production Code, which came to an end in 1969. Sweetback, the radical Van Peebles masterwork that inadvertently touched off the "blaxploitation" craze by becoming an indie smash, was released in 1971, and is therefore outside of our time line.
A more germane question might have been "Why isn't Oscar Micheaux represented in Schlock! since he's a black director who actually made movies during the period under discussion?" The answer to that question would be that Micheaux, while he did intriguing work, was not an exploitation filmmaker, but one who made films for black audiences that were stylistically, thematically, and structurally reflections of the standard studio genres of his day. The appeal of his films was not based on sensationalism or the flouting or subverting of the Production Code, but on the fact that they could be played during the era of segregation in areas where America's black population lived in enforced separation from the "mainstream" (i.e., white) movie culture of the time.
In other words, it wasn't the makers of Schlock! who kept filmmakers of color out of the cultural and historical events depicted in our film. It was American society itself. Gratifying as it might have been to deal with the subject of our film from a multicultural perspective, we could not, because such an approach would have required falsification of the facts.
Hope this clarifies.
Writer/director, Schlock! The Secret History of American Movies
Ted Shen replies:
I didn't detect even a hint of racism in Schlock!