“The black characters in these films were not representations that audiences were used to seeing in the big screen,”
Associate professor Lisa Alexander gives a presentation on black stereotypes in the 1974 film "Blazing Saddles." Photo by Jared Hoehing.

Wayne State associate professor Lisa Alexander gave a presentation on racism and resistance to racism in the film "Blazing Saddles" as a part of the Humanities Center Brown Bag Colloquium series in the Faculty and Administration Building on Feb. 8.

The presentation was called “Hey, Where are the White Women at?” named after a line in the 1974 Mel Brooks film, starring Cleavon Little and Gene Wilder.

The presentation discussed the ways in which "Blazing Saddles" calls attention to and mocks stereotypes about black men, how the film plays with the themes of the Blaxploitation Movement and how Brooks used the “quintessential American film genre, the Western,” to critique American racism, according to the center’s official release.

Alexander said the film is consistently rated “one of the funniest of all time” by film buffs, and it ranks 49 on the highest grossing domestic films, adjusted for inflation, of all time.

In 2006, the Library of Congress deemed Blazing Saddles “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant” and included it in the National Film Registry.

“While the majority of films within the Blaxploitation Movement featured predominately black casts and were targeted toward black audiences, the films were often written, directed and produced by whites,” Alexander said.

She said the era also played on the needs of black audiences for historic figures without answering those needs in realistic terms and were generally low budget productions.

However, she said "Blazing Saddles" was different, with a large budget and providing a parody for stereotypes on black men previously seen in the film industry.

“The black characters in these films were not representations that audiences were used to seeing in the big screen,” Alexander said.

She said the film portrayed the main character, Bart, as a gentle and romantic man. She said this challenged the traditional stereotype of black sexuality being lustful and aggressive.

The film used the American Western genre to challenge the notion of violent masculinity, which was omnipresent in those film, Alexander said.

During the climax of the film, Bart shot the antagonist and resorted to violence “not because he wanted to, but only because that is how Westerns are supposed to end,” Alexander said.

“Nobody wants to acknowledge where we are at with the separation of whiteness and blackness,” said Rhonda Pierce, a junior African American Studies student who attended the event after reading about similar themes in one of her classes.

Alexander said the film can still be relevant in satirizing today’s racial issues, but Western culture would need to be understood for the film to have the full effect. The film was also rated R when it was released due to language, and some jokes may not bode well in today’s politically correct culture, she said.

She said of someone wanting to watch the film, “You can’t watch the edited version on TBS, it is just not the same.”

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