How The ‘War On Drugs’ Birthed “Blaction!” And Why It’s So Important To Black Film and Media

By   |   May 18, 2023   |   Entertainment
Snowfall Season 5

DivaGalsDaily’s new contributor, Hassan Wiggins, takes a deep dive into the birth of “Blaction” films and examines why this film genre has been essential to the creation of Black-created media.

The War on Drugs Brings A New Genre To Life

Only five years after the Vietnam War, Americans arguably faced one of the toughest and most crucial wars in its history: The War on Drugs. Incarceration of African Americans and Latinos was heightened and petty crimes were punished with lifelong sentences. Many would remember this time as heartbreaking and destructive to communities of color and families alike.

Ronald Reagan, America’s president at the time, pulled back funding from schools, government assistance and income taxes in hopes to stop inflation. For lower-class citizens, this was a hardship beyond reasoning, and many turned to illegal activities to make money and support their families or themselves. Drugs were seen as the only option to a swift ‘come up’ in an environment that felt adversarial. 

Despite this domestic war America fought during the 1980s, something grew from the strained relations and became one of the most notable and impactful scenes in all film and television entertainment: America’s Black drug culture.

Here Comes The “Blaction!”

The film industry had a slight fall off during the Cold War and War on Drugs. With revenues flat-lining,  writers and directors desperately needed a filmmaking kick-start. It felt as if many of the genres had been reused and original stories were laborious to come across. Sci-fi had been seen so many times and Westerns were an overused recurring theme. But action has always been a staple.

Directors were enlightened by the realization that African Americans took up a large chunk of viewership. They realized to bring in more revenue, they had to cater to their audience. To the film industry, relatability was huge in creating films for African Americans. Filmmakers would assume, due to the war on drugs and the low income of some people of color, that a drug story would be a hit with Black people, and it was. So began the rise of Blaction, a subgenre of action films that focus on an African American male protagonist, often struggling or confused, who chooses a life of drugs to fulfill his goal. It’s a triumphant underdog story that usually ends in a tragic but expected downfall.

In the 1990s, we saw an influx of Blaction films that would pave the way for the conversation of Afrocentric movies in the future. The impact that the War on Drugs had on film was prominent, often having a direct or indirect reference in the films themselves. While the focal point was usually on a Black cast, the Latinx community affected by the War on Drugs also appeared in these films. It was common for Hispanic actors to play the role of a foreign, “second language” speaking character. This trope consisted of someone who would introduce the African American lead into the drug world or be a dealer or “Capo” to the protagonist.

Blaction… For Us, By Us

For my community and myself, an African American male growing up in Harlem, Blaction films are often regarded as classics in the community, for a good reason. Most of the films produced in this subgenre at the time were successful because they were great films, not only because they capitalized on the moment. There was a strategic barrage by people of color in Hollywood to create something for minorities, and Blaction happened to take center stage.

It’s important to recognize that a lot of Blaction films were made by people of color. Directors, actors and even musicians were able to get into Hollywood when it hadn’t been a possibility beforehand. The war on drugs happened to blaze a path in filmmaking and create acting opportunities for people of color unlike never before. While Blaction films allowed African-Americans and Latinx people to have a bigger role in entertainment, they also forged a new stereotype in film, and to an even greater extent in television.

“The Game is rigged. It ain’t made for people like us.

So you know what? I’m rewriting the rules.”

This is a quote from the long-running, FX hit, Snowfall. The show ran for six seasons, beginning in 2017 and just concluded in April 2023. Snowfall introduced an African American lead, Franklin who we follow through his “quest for power” amidst the beginning of the War on Drugs, and how he uses his knowledge to soar in the Los Angeles drug world.

Snowfall manages to capture everything that makes the Blaction genre feel so rewarding yet heartfelt. It’s someone trying to make themselves a better life, a story that’s relatable to all. Initially written and directed by John Singleton, whose iconic 1991 film Boyz in the Hood was deemed culturally significant by the United States Library of Congress in 2002, the late director showed viewers more than simply the inner workings of the drug world. He managed to portray enriched character development on how drugs affect the user and the seller. 

Franklin embodies an Icarus character arc, just like all Blaction protagonists, and Snowfall gives us a look at the mental deterioration of “‘power-driven addiction,” something that wasn’t so habitual in the genre outside of shows like HBO’s The Wire or non-African American drug-related series. Snowfall introduced psychological elements that push it past a run-of-the-mill television series as we watched the rise and fall of this human being on a mission doomed to fail.

Singleton remains a pioneer of the Blaction film genre: a true genius in the industry who taught us to see past the stereotypes often associated with people in the drug world.  

The Aftermath

Overall, any influence of the War on Drugs in Black and Latinx film or television can be regarded as an empowering example of the ability of people of color to thrive regardless of their status or situation. One of Black America’s lowest moments in the 20th century managed to strengthen the grasp of stories being told from the perspective of the silenced. The 1990s inspired many African Americans to begin filmmaking because of the stories we were able to tell. We mourn for the battles faced during the War but look ahead. The impact of Blaction will forever shape media and advance Black voices and hopefully create more inroads for other media genres to encompass the Black experience. 

photo credit: FX.

Filed Under: Entertainment
  • BEST SELLERS! Top Picks for Fashionistas. Visit

  • Ebates Coupons and Cash Back

  • DivaGalsDaily receives commissions from our Affiliate partners