Trick Baby And How It Ranks As A Blaxploitation Film

By Sandra Mitchell

Films in the Blaxploitation genre can have unusual or common themes central to their plots. But often, and with the best of them, they usually nod at issues that are traditional elements of African American societies. These are different from usual exploitation films, which tend to be very derogatory about its subjects.

One film could have gotten to a level that would have been a cut above the best of these epics. This was the 1972 movie Trick Baby, based on an eponymous novel by the author Iceberg Slim, then a leading light in black writing. Whereas the novel is an intense tale of the underworld, the film wasted the potential by being, as one critic put it, watered down.

This movie is about two friends living and operating in Philadelphia, where they make a living deceiving people. The characters are called Blue Howard and White Folks, and being half white, folks could be somebody that is white. This fact helps them in their adventures to con people, and the movie is about their plan for their biggest con to date.

The racial tensions obviously propel this plot, but then it can be expected from the work of an author with very intense experiences in the African underworld, and his books were even bestsellers in his genre. Delineation of character was present in a watered down sense, and Folks was especially cited for having a ho hum and forgettable performance. There was no focus on being black and male, and that was something that could have really made the difference.

White Folks was born from the union of a prostitute and a white trick, hence the title. Since this accident of birth is the thematic focus of both novel and film, the story could have intensely examined the details behind it. However, the film went ahead with the classic need for Hollywood to have an easier subject to portray visually.

In this regard, this feature can be explained, because to intensify or deepen the focus on Folks would have made some people squirm. With the lack of honest friction or real issues about racial conflict, the movie went on to become a somewhat feel good crime movie that dissolved the issues out of hard focus. The theme of black crime might have been well told, if not for the way the focus became the driver for the film.

Hollywood has always had the tendency to dehumanize the focus, to concentrate on visual elements instead of the story ones. It is one defect that no one has deemed to change, and so, no matter supposedly great films there are available from the industry, they do not address this defect. It is mostly about an industry that seems to want to be relevant always ending up producing semi con works.

The said plan by the protagonists is nearly derailed by a man with Mafia connections they victimized before. The twist is a classic cliche that happens before endings, something that critics have to howl about, even as the producers will go with it in the end. Maybe there was the idea to provide impact for the film in the box office sense all the time.

Thus, director Larry Yust thought it best to soften blows made by the story itself to be more acceptable to the general public. This is one organism that has an oh so sensitive stomach while allowing blasphemy to be its constant companion. And black experience is too much of a punch in the gut that it needs watering down.

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