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Saturday, January 22, 2022

Max Julien, star of iconic black exploitation film, dies at 88

Melvin Van Peebles set the tone with “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadassssss,” his independently produced 1971 box office hit about a revolutionary sex show contestant. That same year, Gordon Parks’ “Shaft” appeared, less aggressive but still hugely popular.

By the end of the 1970s, the category of “black exploitation” disappeared. Ten years from now, young cinephiles and hip-hop artists will be gulping down VHS tapes of The Poppy and other gems of the era—a treasure trove of films with powerful black imagery, including Super Fly and Black Caesar.

“Because of racism, there wasn’t much going on in Hollywood at the time,” said Dr. Boyd. “And the story of an underworld figure like Goldie working outside the system was hugely appealing to the young rising stars of a new musical genre, gangsta rap.”

Mr. Julien also worked as a screenwriter. Cleopatra Jones (1973), which he wrote, featured another character on the right side of the law. In it, the statuesque Tamara Dobson played a martial arts-wielding model and undercover agent on a mission to rid her community of drugs. (Shelley Winters played a drug lord named Mammy.)

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He also wrote Thomasin and Bushrod, a slightly feminist western released in 1974, and starred in it with Vonetta McGee, his then girlfriend. The film is reminiscent of a sweeter and goofier version of the 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde. Mr. Julien said he was inspired by the exploits of his great-grandfather, a bank robber named Bushrod, to turn his family’s story into a love story.

Maxwell Julien Banks was born July 12, 1933 in Washington DC. His father, Seldon Bushrod Banks, was an aircraft mechanic. His mother, Cora (Page) Banks, was a restaurant owner. She was murdered in her home in 1972 and Mr. Julien said his grief affected his performance at Mac.

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