Coffy – The Black Sexual Other and the Superwoman in Blaxpolitation movies

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We talked about Coffy being more than one sterotype, please discuss and explain why? Also, give examples of where this stereotype exist in current films/tv shows. In preparing your comments, think about some of the things we talked about in class as well as the non-verbal sexual behaviors overview I sent you. Again, please refer to the readings from previous classes and scenes from the film. Feel free to comment on each other’s post.

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18 thoughts on “Coffy – The Black Sexual Other and the Superwoman in Blaxpolitation movies

  1. The first image which we saw of Coffy in the first scene was in the back of a car in a submissive position. That first scene alone solidify her place as Jezebel. A hyper sexual being who uses her body to get people right where she wants them. However what set Coffy aside from a pure Jezebel is she vigilante for nothing. She was fighting against drugs after seeing the effects it had on her sister. Coffy was also a nurse, not a good one seeing as she got out of an operating room for messing up but none the less a nurse. She took care of her younger sister, going to visit her in the rehabilitation facility. Coffy was a certain kind of superwoman. She had a mixture of of a Jezebel and a superwoman neither was played out to the full potential. In many black films and television shows the mix between a Jezebel and a superwoman often are main characters in shows like Scandal, Being Mary Jane and How to Get Away with Murder. In chapter four mantu discussed the issue of cultural impact the film industry has on society. In modern television it is evident with shows such as scandal, Being Mary Jane and How to Get Away with Murder all the women are a mixture of jezbel and superwoman. These women all struggle in the relationship department and struggle improving their own lives yet thrive in others. It’s evident from the modern shows the mixture of Jezebel and superwoman is now the new social norm for black woman.

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  2. Keanda, you made some great points in your observations about Coffy being both the Jezebel and the Superwoman. I would have liked for you to talk about how her verbal and non-verbal behavior link her to this hypersexual stereotype as well as how these images connect to the contemporary jezebel on television. You so rightly, referred to Scandal, Being Mary Jane and HTGAWM as current examples of this stereotype but didnt connect them to the reading in detail. A uote from chapter four would have been perfect here. As an example, in chapter 3 she says, “The meaning of black female subjects on screen is thus settled by resurrecting the old cultural symbol of the oversexed black Jezebel, images arranged in such a way as to carry forward the narrative of debased sexuality.” In regards to the Superwoman, what does it mean for Black women to be the fixer, the care taker, the lover to all who never finds love? Coffy, despite being a nurse basically pimps herself out in an effort to avenge her sister’s addiction and get rid of drugs in her community only to get sold out by her lover. In chapter one, Manatu states “when presented as professionals, these women are aggressive and amazonian, real and unreal all at once.” There is no justice, no redemption, no love or respectability for the Superwoman and definitely not for the Jezebel.

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  3. In the film Coffey I felt that she didn’t fit the exact term or stereotype of a jezebel but rather that of a superwoman and only when needed was she a jezebel using her sex to get what she wanted. For example the scene in the beginning of the film with the drug dealer, and in the pimps house when she was “acting” the part. Much is left to the imagination whether she actually performed any acts, which I believe she did in order to gain his trust, but overall we never actually see her have sex with anyone unwillingly or for vindictive gain. We only see her have sex with the senator and that was of free will because she “loves him”. This brings me back to the fact that she isn’t a pure jezebel in a sense but rather a in between version between superwoman and a jezebel. We see her caring and nurturing side when she goes to visit her sister, and that her profession is an actual caretaker, a nurse. To me a jezebel is a hyper sexual feminine being that only wants to use their sex for either personal gain(unjustly or illegally) or because they are depicted as the villain, which is its own topic for depicting black woman as a villain in a whole other topic. The only time I have ever seen another even vaguely similar vision of this kind of character is and I am sad to say this, the Catwoman Movie with Haley Barry. Not her greatest film and not the greatest depiction of Catwoman, but, Selena Kyle character and Coffey’s both share the same characteristics. Both are strong woman of color who lead caring and nurturing loves until a terrible event leads them to turn to vigilante justice to bring themselves piece. Granted Haley Barry’s character is a superhuman but she does use her sexuality as a tool to luring her enemies to telling them what she wants to know. I am a bit rusty Edith the movie but I don’t think she actually kills anyone. Also Coffey is a badass female and I honestly loved this movie. I would love them to make a remake and see what they could do with it. Just don’t cast Haley Barry.

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    • Liz, Coffy is both the Superwoman and the Jezbel. I agree that we never see Coffy have sex but it is implied in one or two scens that she does. One is for pleasure with the Senator and the other as a means to gain the trust of King the pimp. Even if she is not an actual prostitute/whore in the film, her verbal and non verbal sexual behaviors depict her as a hypersexual woman willing to do anything to either get high or to serve the sexual needs of men. You mentioned that she isn’t a true jezebel but as you noted the jezebel uses sex for personal gain. On several occassions, she used her body to gain the trust of a men who wanted her for sex in order to trap them. As Manatu states in ch. 3, “Formented by historical events and define by current trend, “black-women-as-whore” continue to be imputed for men’s sexual desires.” So, Coffy is both equally superwoman as well as jezebel like Haley Berry in Catwoman. Unfortunately, there are many more in film as well as tv. As Manatu notes, despite the progress black women have made in society and within their communities, they are still largely viewed by mainstream media as the old and constant stereotypes, many that have been created several decades ago. Again, always incorporate the readings.

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  4. To describe Coffy character, she will have to be label as the superwomen. She very caring and loving person, we know this because she worked hard to get back at drugs dealer who hurt her sister and friend. Non-verbal sexual behaviors were seen throughout the movie, as she uses her body as a tool to lure the man in. Coffy begin upset that drug dealers hurt her little sister, she went after the guys who sold her the drugs. We see this in the opening scene when she acts as a junky to lure the drug dealer in. she wore tight clothing, moan and touch on the man, was very seductive in her tone when speaking to the male, before killing them. Her verbal behaviors was very sexualize too. She will speak direct about sex saying “we could have a good time”, “will do whatever you like”, even referring the guy’s penis as Big daddy. Coffy start off with the movie with a love romantic, but she wasn’t aware of his wicked was. at the ending scene when her lover was confronted about knowing Coffy, and if he was a part of her plans of killing of the drugs dealers. He replied “she was just a fuck”. Overall, Coffy Self- Presentation was overly sexually idealized. She knew she can lure male’s encounters in.
    Kerry Washington as Olivia pope in pop TV show Scandals is a more up to dated modern version of Coffy. Olivia is a special agent that work undercover, fighting keeping the public or politics secrets in. she had affairs with the president and other males throughout the different season. As she work hard to work and meet her client needs, she unable to be settle in her own life. She pretty much like Coffy in a sense because they can be strong women, but also lost and can’t really find love, or take care of themselves. Coffy, is unable to realize that her boyfriend playing her, even after he told the gangster to kill her. She still was going to take him back, until she saw he was cheating. And Olivia is sleeping with a marry man, the president. Norma Manatu, argues that median showcase can change the roles and views on black female characters in films. But yet years later, will still have images/roles on black women are still getting the same roles.

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    • Ebony, great examples of verbal and non-verbal sexual behaviors in relations to Coffy. Her dress, behavior and speech, as you noted, was a deliberate way of depicting Coffy as a sexual deviant/jezebel. You also gave a good overview of her as a superwoman but I think you could have even given more examples or even quotes from the reading to describe her. I agree that Olivia Pope from Scandal is a modern version of Coffy. Both were women are obvious superwomen stereotypes because of their aggressiveness, desire to be a problem solving and fixer but they also fall into the jezebel/sexual deviant persona as well. Both lack the ability to find true love and are treated as sexual beings available for the male gaze and pleasure. Your quote was very appropriate for the purpose of this analysis, just make sure to use the quote “symbols” to indicate the exact words from the book. Lastly, as you noted not much has changed for the roles of black women. Manatu states, “The lack of diversity in cinematic roles for black women contrasted with their repated images as “sexual” may even foster the impression that it is in black women’s natire to deviate from culturally prescribed sexual behaviors for women in general…”

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  5. In the film, Coffy the main character a black woman named Coffy is developed as a 70s action hero. There to fight crime for those who cannot fight for themselves; however, though we are prepped to believe that Coffy is simply an action hero there are many underlying stereotypes that her character gets boxed in. It seems that in most films where there is a black woman character, we the viewers can never fully move away from seeing her as the four main stereotypes allowed for black woman (e.g. the jezebel, sapphire, superwoman, mammy). This is the case because of the “negative filmic images [that] contribute to the stigmatization of the black woman,” that we continue see that black woman in film never fully develop into more complex dynamic characters (Manatu, p 87).
    Coffy is an interesting character because though she does not fit into one main stereotype creating the deception that she is a ‘complex’ character, she in fact jumps around different corners of the boxed stereotypes. As a light-skinned black woman, along with her other “Eurocentric” features Coffy is able to use what Manatu describes as her “exotic beauty” to deceive the men she aims to kill. This is an example of colorism in that “darker-skinned… were equated with physical strength, but were perceived as possessing no femininity nor beauty” (Manatu, p 88). This is where Coffy becomes an interesting and “complex” character in that though she fits the standard of some femininity because of her light skin, she also is able to use her strength fighting off other men. This shows the privilege she has to be able to exert her “masculine” strength while keeping intact her femininity.
    In the film, Coffy exhibits essentially all four stereotypes in some degree, some more than others. It is easy to label Coffy as a jezebel in that she behaved in very ‘jezebel-like’ manners and the common mythical belief that all black woman are innately transgressors. However, most times except for the politician she was dating she did not have many sexual partners. It would always start out that way as a means to trap them, an intelligent method one might say but of course it does not get played out that way. Coffy truly embodies a mix of stereotypes from not only being ‘jezebel-like’ but also being the superwoman and a sapphire. She plays the superwoman explicitly in that she goes out of her way putting herself in danger multiple times to get revenge on all the dope dealers who have ruined the lives of people like her sister. Her superwoman stereotype gets strengthened by her sapphire tendencies in that the more she got angry about the availability of dope in the community and how these dealers did not give a care about the young lives it affected, the more she was willing and persistent on being the superwoman.
    Unfortunately, we see these stereotypes everywhere in television and in film today. The most common and popular examples of today’s superwoman definitely goes to Kerry Washington’s character, Olivia Pope on Scandal and Gabriel Union’s character, Mary Jane on Being Mary Jane. Both of these characters are willing to go above and beyond to be the best in the careers, which is not a bad thing. But with things like love and their personal life, it does not get the same attention because as Manatu mentions “a women’s social value [is] based on her ‘marriageability’” (p 89). Reinforcing the notion that black women innately are unlovable that they could be the best at their jobs but in the end they themselves are dysfunctional.
    Even in the titles of these two shows and the fact that they include black women as the face of their show is interesting. Why do black women have to be involved in something as negative as a ‘scandal?’ Why are these negative concepts so popular within the Black community? This goes back to the Blaxploitation film era where there was an influx of black filmmakers creating and promoting Black actors. It was an important time since it was extremely rare to see Black actors on the big screen so whatever representation was put out there was taken. There was no time to critique the degrading stereotypes of Black people in film, especially that of Black women. We see this today in the two shows, mentioned earlier because there are not a lot of successful shows where there is a leading Black women. So when we get them, we hold on to them tightly and laud them because of that innate fear that if we do complain and critique, the shows would be cut as quickly as it came.

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    • Istou, this is one of the most extensive and accurate analysis of Coffy that I received from a student. Great incorporation of the the readings and references to the film. Excellent observations! My only criticsm is that you noted that Coffy, exhibits characterizations of all the stereotypes and I dont think she fits into the mammy but you certainly made good arguments for her representations of all the other three. Good job!

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  6. I would describe Coffy as a superwoman with a hint of jezebel. She would be characterized as a superwoman because throughout the whole film her goal was to get the guys that sold her sister drugs and she was also a nurse. She wanted to help everybody else but could not help herself. Her jezebel side came out in order to get closer to the drug dealers. She used nonverbal behavior to get the drug dealer to trust her. She also used micro-sexual nonverbal behavior. When she was meeting with the drug dealer in his hotel room she had on a short dress that showed her boobs and she was rubbing against him and his genitals. She did this so that she could get closer to the drug dealer and left alone with him so she can get the chance to kill him. Coffee’s jezebel side only came out because she needed to use her sexuality to get what she wanted. She needed the men to trust her and get close to them and the only way that was possible was to submit herself to them. Another way she submits herself is when she pretends to be interested in the bodyguard when they are taking her to kill her. She pretends to be drugged and she says things like “come on, hurry up”, pretending that she is really going to have sex with him so she can kill him. This idea of being a jezebel to get what you want relates to the main character in the show “How to Get Away With Murder”. Annalise uses her body to get what she needs for a case to win a case. A common theme in which all three movies portray is the idea that black women cannot find love. Coffy in the end was left to kill the guy she thought she loved. She found that he was actually not who she thought he was.

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  7. In the film Coffy is a superwoman which is unique because of her being an African American female during this time when this film was made. Even though she seemed successful in the film the streo type of her just being a women was still played out. For example when she was a nurse and wasn’t doing her job right and the doctor yelled out to get out and come back when she was better. Also at the end of the film where she also gave into the man who was feeding her lies so she wouldn’t shoot out was her being a weak of her emotions. If Coffy were a male she would of shot him right away but because she’s a female there has to be emotion played out. In ” The Blaxploitation Era and the Black Female Lead ” blaxploitation is expressed throughout the whole film. Coffy is seen as this sex symbol and uses her looks to get her outta trouble. Also one of the other characters is a pimp and you don’t see that with any of the white characters in the film. This slideshow does show black women in a different light if there is African American director rather than a white. You rarely see black ” superheroe ” females these days.

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    • Good point about her being the first African American superwoman. Not only was Pam Grier the first black woman to be a superwoman caricature in film but the first women ever to portray that type of character. Unfortunately, what should have been a cinematic heroine became was nothing more than a combination of stereotypes. As Manatu states, “Traditionally, the cinematic heroine, like the romance novel heroine, has been depicted as gentell, intelligent, virginal and beautiful, conditions representative of female respectability.” Coffy lacks female respectability therefore she could never be a cinematic heroine. Despite being portrayed as a superwoman, she is also seen as a jezebel that uses sex to trick men. Again, good observations, just please use the readings in your postings

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  8. Great observations Stephanie! Coffy is both stereotypes, specifically as it relates to her being the jezebel. You gave great examples of that with scenes from the film but again always incorporate quotes from the reading. This would have been a great opportunity to connect these two stereotypes with the reading specifically where Manatu talks about the whore/jezbel in mainstream media. Your example of Annalise from HTGAWM is a perfect representation of the modern Jezebel. Annalise also has some elements of the superwoman and sapphire, therefore the readings would have been a good place to talk about the social implications of those stereotypes in the age of professional woman like Oprah and Michelle Obama.

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  9. I would say that Coffy fits the superwoman stereotype best, she definitely has her Jezebel moments though. Through out the movie her goal is basically to avenge her sister who got involved the wrong crowd and ended up in the hospital. Coffy is now going after these guys and killing them off one by one vigilante style. She does use her body in a sexual way to get where she wants these men. She entices them with sex and gets them in a position where they are vulnerable and is able to kill them. I would still say that she is more of a superwoman because she is trying to take care of her sister and she also has a real job, she is a nurse. As we talked about in class Coffy also lacks a love life, just like the stereotypical black female does in most films. She thinks that she is in love with this one man in the movie, and it makes her vulnerable he ends up stabbing her in the back and almost gets her killed, but for a moment you think she is willing to forgive him and take him back because she thinks she is in love with him; then a random woman comes out of this guys bedroom and she knows he doesn’t love her so she kills him.
    Currently I would say that Annalise Keating in HTGAWM is very similar to Coffy, stereotype wise. Annalise is the superwoman, with this great career and ability to take care of all these problems and come of as this really strong woman, but she also kind of uses sex to get her way. She sleeps with this cop who is helping her, and although I believe she does have real feelings for him, it seems at times she is stringing him along just to keep him close for when she needs him. Olivia from Scandal is similar to the superwoman and jezebel too, although it is never obvious she is using sex to help her with her career, it does seem like she uses her body to keep this really powerful men interested in her and indirectly I think she may be doing this just to keep them in her life and keep them interested and just available to her when she needs them.
    In Chapter 3 Manatu talks about how black woman have always just been put into these stereotypical roles and is devalues black woman, people watch these movies and these television shows and it just becomes the popular culture and it is what people believe is true and common. In class we discussed how woman of color, especially those with a darker complexion are just not given the many opportunities at all to portray strong positive roles that don’t have some type of negative stereotype.

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  10. Liv, good connection of the readings and discussion to Coffy as a Superwoman/Jezebel! Coffy is definitely a superwoman but she is just as much a jezebel. She not only uses sex to seduce men and manipulate them but she also sleeps with at least one two of them. Oddly, enough the only man she doesnt have sex with is the cop, who we are led to believe she previously had a relationship with. Your references to Scandal and HTGAWM is spot on him relating the same stereotypes to Coffy. Its unfortunate that despite the advances of black women in society and in media, we still rely on the same stereotypes of superwoman and the jezebel/whore to define how we view black women. As Manatu notes in Ch. 3, she states ” The maning of the black female subjects on screen is thus settled by resurrecting the old cultural symbol of the oversexed black Jezebel.”

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  11. My view on Pam Grier’s character Coffy might be a little different then most because I know they consider them sterotypes but she did what every Bond movie has done since Dr. No. Within the first 5 minutes of the movie Coffy acts as a jezebel and a junkie trying to fuck to get a fix. She utilized her tone in which she spoke, her clothing with her spaghetti strap top, rubbing on the dealer in the car and letting him put his head in her breasts. It continued when they got to the apartment as the strap on her dress fell and her breasts came out. Haste notes that “woman as whore” is an “extremely potent media image; she allows the expression of male fantasy while being safely constrained … [which] assuages [man’s] basic anxieties about the sinfulness of sex.”
    She then switched to being the strong and independent black woman when she killed the dealer and the junkie sidekick. I could say Olivia Pope resembles Coffy because they both use sex as a weapon but are intelligent enough to have a plan or come up with a plan on the spot. They get stereotyped as a Jezebel; I say Coffy was a criminal mastermind. Coffy is also a superwoman, being a trauma nurse, a fighter, an activist, a hero/villain depending on how you view her actions. She knew the police were involved so there was no point in going to them so she did what a strong intelligent, independent black woman would do, she handled it herself. She was also the matriarch because the whole point of the movie was to get back at those who poisoned the one person she loved the most and who she was taking care of, her little sister. But, I would not categorize her as Evette Brown did in her article Six annoying women character tropes in black romantic comedies, she states,” Matriarchs are the heads-of-their-households – strong-willed, unbending, and asexual. They’re often depicted as unattractive and overprotective of their children, which alienates men. Their lives revolve around others, leaving little room for their personal growth or happiness.”

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    • Well Magda, you are somewhat right! You description of Coffy is somewhat different, although you still view her as the Superwoman which is generally how most view Pam Grier’s character. When you described Coffy as a criminal mastermind, that is to some degree correct, which shows that she exhibits a lot of the Superwoman stereotype because she goes above and beyond to bring down the mob, rid the commuunity of drugs and avenge her sister. But, she is also a Jezebel because of her ability to use sex to seduce and manipulate the men she is fighting. As the Superwoman and Jezebel, we know and see she can never find love. Despite her abilities to outsmart the crooked cops, mob and drug dealers she still fails to find love when she is betrayed by her boyfriend Harold. In this film, Coffy is far from the matriach or mammie stereotype. As we talked about in class, her character was suppose to resemble Angela Davis and the women of the Black Panther Party. She was the 1st female action hero. Despite the popularity of blaxplotation period, black women were still being boxed into stereotpypes. Therefore, Coffy could not be anything other than the Superwoman with charactistics of the Jezebel. She fails as a love interest, as a cinematic heroine and a romantic hero.

      Again, always incorporate the readings into your comments.

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  12. In the film, Coffy is clearly portrayed as the jezebel but we can also say that she was the superwoman as well. In the film, we see how Coffy uses her physical attributes to seduce men and accomplish her goals. It is no doubt that she is indeed a superwoman since every step she takes and decisions she makes have a bigger purpose. Coffy becomes a prostitute/jezebel and takes justice into her hands. “The bad girl” (pg.55) She starts by seducing drug dealers and basically cleaning up the street by killing them all, one by one. Coffy is also an independent woman. she is a nurse, and this actually gives her advantage to finish what she started without giving police any clues about her crimes.
    Her sexually is very out there when it comes to her character. All the men she gets involved with want her for her seductive appearance. As Mamatu argues, “sexual images of black women appear to be constructed as a means of reinforcing black women’s other’s sexual status” (pg.56). There is no distinction or reward for the group of black women who indeed follow or adhere to the norms of society.

    According to this film, it seems that the only way a black woman can accomplish her goals or get what she wants is by using her body to attract or seduce men.

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