2.09.2012

Three Honkies: Sheba, Baby (Girdler, 1975)

The heat's on in the street... but Sheba's doing the cooking, and any cat in her way is gonna get fried!

I can occasionally be bad about watching but a portion of a film, getting a presumed vibe then writing the title off as viewed if I feel I've been there and done that with little else to glean. I perpetrated this with "Sheba, Baby" several years back, and with this mentality figured checking it out again would place it under the "rewatch" category. I had previously deemed it another "Coffy" retread a la "Foxy Brown", but where many identical plot points are indeed present the picture actually shares more in common with "Friday Foster" and is original enough to widely prove my initially hasty interpretation as fallacy.

"Sheba" represents in its individuality so much of what I love about blaxploitation, from the nearly ever-present Monk Higgins funk seeming to emanate from slammin' Pam Grier's mere presence and the immediately grabbing storyline of an ethical family's empathetic financial struggle, to the presentation of its titular character as uniquely strong in both the everyday and the extraordinary (I.E. givin' the gun-brothers the frizzies) to a general extent that defies the bounds of "exploitation". The themes at hand are relevant for all, and rarely if ever rely on matters of race or cultural idiosyncrasy. The racial themes are subtle, rendering it merely circumstantial that the established entrepreneurs (headed by D'Urville Martin as, well, let's just call him Prince George, you follow me?) taking on small-time competition generates a black versus black scenario. Then, one must point out the poignancy in the fact that above it all a white man is orchestrating the conflict to his benefit. When you're after the top banana, you peel off the skin!

To look deeper, one might also make note of the Louisville setting. Like Arthur Marks' also Grier-starring "Bucktown", "Sheba" brings prominent blackness to unexpected locales, spreading the soul like jam across a crusty country, beyond the traditional urban settings of New York City, etcetera. Grier's character in "Bucktown" never had a car as bitchin' as the one in "Sheba", though... and that's coming from one rarely impressed with cars.

How come the soul wave shot so rapidly downhill from 1975 forth? I hesitate to accuse the surface normalcy in "Sheba" as a trend, but there is the fact we're still dealing with today as evidenced through filmmakers' recent issues getting non-white casts funded or distributed in the mainstream - a majority of audiences are less keen on seeing brown faces performing normal tasks. Roles for non-whites in mainstream films are tailored to their respective races' stereotypes and narrative tropes, while pictures outside the mainstream fail to gain support even from their own communities. It goes without saying, I'm glad we have the independent scene, and that the offerings from it are looking better and better.

It suffices to say, the groovy and exciting "Sheba, Baby" makes me happy, endearingly stilted performances and all. I need more films like "Sheba, Baby" in my life. Thankfully, there are plenty more where it came from.

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