“Blaxploitation” is a word you’re going to see a lot in this review, so here’s a quick explanation for anyone unfamiliar with the term. A subgenre of the 1970s grindhouse exploitation film movement, Blaxploitation movies used their low budgets and Black casts to tackle racial and social issues of the day in lurid, but nonetheless entertaining, schlock fashion. While this controversial representation can arguably be seen as negative, the appreciation for this ridiculous era’s unique aesthetics has grown over time. If you want to experience this blast from the past, with the convenience of modern technology, Brown Sugar is the video streaming service for you.
What Can You Watch on Brown Sugar?
Modern pop culture has basically boiled Blaxploitation down to parody in comedy films like Black Dynamite and Undercover Brother. That’s not to say humor isn’t a key part of a genre. For a history lesson, watch Eddie Murphy’s Rudy Ray Moore biopic, Dolemite Is My Name, on Editors’ Choice video streaming service Netflix. However, there is more to these movies than just laughing at their absurdity, which you’ll quickly discover as you pour through Brown Sugar’s specialized vintage catalog.
Crooked white cops and CIA agents cross paths with gun-toting, irresistible, seemingly all-powerful Black vigilantes trying to clean the dope off the streets. Wrongfully imprisoned Black women show their white counterparts what it’s really like to be in jail. Blaxploitation can pretty much be applied to any genre, from urban warfare to kung-fu battles.
Brown Sugar’s highlights include the legendary Pam Grier in Coffy and Foxy Brown, several Blacula horror movies, The Black Dragon, and a Fred Williamson cowboy film that has a title I don’t need to spell out here. If it’s Black and/or has a groovy Curtis Mayfield orchestral soundtrack, it belongs here. This is a deliriously enjoyable and militantly offbeat selection of more than 300 films and shows.
However, this collection could, and used to be, better. Like other streaming services, Brown Sugar’s library changes with time, which unfortunately means some movies have vanished, at least temporarily. We have The Return of Superfly, but no Superfly. The Shaft trilogy is missing in action, as is the progenitor of the entire Blaxploitation genre Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song. Black Dynamite and Jackie Brown (which the service shares its funky font with) are modern films with strong Blaxploitation roots currently unavailable on the service.
Brown Sugar’s not all about Blaxploitation, though. A smattering of other kinds of shows and movies add more heft and value to the service. We have The Mighty Quinn from 1989, a great Denzel Washington movie, and a TV movie where Morgan Freeman plays Malcolm X. There are Richard Pryor comedy specials, hot Shaq/Cedric The Entertainer collaborations, interviews conducted by journalist Ed Gordon, boxing matches, Beyoncé and Michelle Obama documentaries, the wonderfully titled sequel Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo, and original shows from Brown Sugar’s parent network Bounce TV. However, you cannot watch Bounce TV live.
Still, BET+ has a stronger library of contemporary African-American movies and shows, as do Netflix and Hulu, which have the added benefit of the rest of their mainstream libraries. Meanwhile, KweliTV excels in its lane by offering seldom-seen international indie African art films.
Cost and Platforms
After a seven-day free trial, Brown Sugar costs $3.99 per month, making it the most affordable of the Black-focused streaming services we’ve seen. BET+ costs $9.99 per month. KweliTV has more flexible pricing options, including a free ad-supported live TV tier, but its best subscription costs $5.99 per month. That’s the same price as ad-supported tiers from CBS All Access and Hulu, while a standard (and recommended) Netflix plan costs $12.99 per month.
Brown Sugar’s low, ad-free price makes it easier to appreciate the strengths of its library, while forgiving its limitations. It won’t replace your other streaming services, but it’s cheap enough to co-exist with them. You can even give subscriptions as a gift.
Along with its web browser player, Brown Sugar offers apps for mobile (Android and iOS) and media streaming devices (Amazon Fire devices, Apple TV, Chromecast, and Roku). It does not support video game consoles.
Brown Sugar on the Web and Mobile
For as stylish as these Blaxploitation movies can be, Brown Sugar’s web interface is functional but pretty plain. Along with one highlighted movie up top, there are rows of movies and shows in a big grid below. The grid is separated by genre, including special collections like “Black Lives Matter” and “Brown Sugar Roots,” but your only search options are typing in specific names or scrolling through one huge alphabetical list of everything on the platform. Fortunately, you can favorite a movie or show and keep track of everything you’ve started watching in case you need to finish it later.
I experienced no playback issues while watching Jive Turkey over my home Wi-Fi connection (60Mbps download). You can watch in either fullscreen or picture-in-picture modes. While watching a show, you can scroll through other episodes, although you can only see titles, not images or summaries. There’s no way to adjust video quality, but as with classic anime streaming service RetroCrush, that’s less of an issue when viewing vintage material. Granted, RetroCrush is totally free.
Blaxploitation movies are known for their funky trailers and posters, so I’m glad you can view those here, too. It adds an element of film art preservation reminiscent of the Criterion Channel. You can also share what movies you’re watching on social media, but there’s no rating system. Live customer support is just a click away.
Brown Sugar’s mobile experience is largely identical, just on a smaller screen, in my case, an iPhone 11 running iOS 13. There’s no ability to, say, skip forward or backward by 15 seconds. Sections for Favorites and History are spelled out rather than marked with symbols. Brown Sugar doesn’t support offline downloads, unlike Disney+ or HBO Max, but you can stream on up to three devices simultaneously.
Accessibility and Parental Controls
Considering the poor sound quality of these older, low-budget movies, I’m thankful for Brown Sugar’s robust subtitle options. You can change fonts, colors, size, backgrounds, and window transparency with ease from the video player itself.
Along with cast and release year, each Brown Sugar listing shows an age rating. However, there are no parental controls. Managing your account is solely about payment. Perhaps Brown Sugar rightly thinks anyone who cares about these movies, anyone who even knows about them, is surely over a certain age. But maybe cool cinephile parents are interested in teaching their curious kids about this wacky slice of film history. It would be nice for them to have a way to easily filter out the most mature examples of a genre infamously unafraid to get extremely explicit.
Brown Sugar and VPN
We can’t argue strongly enough for you to use a VPN to stay safe and private online. The downside is that virtually changing where you are in the world can sometimes disable video streaming services that rely on region-specific licensing deals. Some streaming services play nice with VPN, even if it’s just in specific circumstances.
Brown Sugar isn’t one of those streaming services. Whether I set my location to another state in the US or far off in the Netherlands, I couldn’t watch any Brown Sugar content while connected to a ProtonVPN server on my Windows laptop. Keep in mind that even streaming services that currently work with VPNs may experience this same issue in the future.
We Can Dig It
With so many streaming services out there, dominating a niche seems like the only way to stand out from the pack. Even as its library fluctuates, Brown Sugar’s focus on classic Blaxploitation movies is one of the more exciting and worthwhile film history niches we can think of, especially at its price. However, Netflix is still our video streaming Editors’ Choice, and a significant portion of its original mainstream library includes popular, high-quality movies, shows, and comedy specials for Black audiences. Hulu and YouTube TV are also Editors’ Choice picks for live TV streaming.
Brown Sugar Specs
|Starting Price||$3.99 per month|
|On-Demand Movies and TV Shows||Yes|
|Offline Downloads on Mobile||No|