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In the late 1960s the movie industry began to generate a series of movies specifically directed toward the African-American community. While the vampire was essentially a European folk character, and there have been only a few references to vampires in Africa or in African-American lore, it was inevitable that “blaxploitation” producers would consider the possibilities of a Black vampire motion picture. In 1972 the first of the two most important African-American vampire movies, Blacula, starring William Marshall, appeared.
Blacula told the story of Prince Mamuwalde, an African leader in 1780 who was trying to find a way to stop the slave trade that haunted Africa’s west coast. He sought out Count Dracula (Charles Macaulay) to obtain his assistance in the endeavor. Dracula merely laughed at the Prince, who with his wife Luva, started to leave. Before they could get away, however, they were attacked by Dracula and his vampire cohorts. Mamuwalde was vampirized and sealed in a tomb. Luva was left to die of starvation, unable to help her husband as Dracula cursed Mamuwalde to become Blacula, his African counterpart.
The story then switches to 1965 when some Americans purchase the furnishings of Castle Dracula and ship them to Los Angeles, unaware that the ornate coffin they have obtained houses Blacula’s body. Blacula is awakened and discovers a new love, Tina, the exact image of his Luva. As the plot progresses, she falls victim to a shooting incident, and he turns her into a vampire to save her. But then she is staked to death, and in his grief Blacula commits suicide by walking into the sunlight.
Blacula was revived by the magic of voodoo a year later in a sequel, Scream Blacula Scream. In collusion with the voodoo priestess Lisa, he searches for a way to rid himself of his vampirism, but is thwarted by the police. In a novel, but entirely appropriate, twist of the storyline, he is killed by a pin stuck through the heart of a voodoo doll.
Because of the large audience of vampire movie enthusiasts, the Blacula movies have had a heightened popularity and join the list of those few blaxploitation films which found a broad audience beyond the African-American community. Blacula was awarded the Ann Radcliffe Award by the The Count Dracula Society.