Mandingo (1975) is an exploitation film that exaggerates the lurid aspects of slavery in America during the mid-19th century. Directed by Richard Fleischer, it stars James Mason, Susan George, Perry King, Ken Norton, and Brenda Sykes.
The story is based on the pulp novel of the same name by Kyle Onstott, the first in a series of books on slavery. A sequel, adapted from Onstott's Drum, was filmed in 1976.
James Mason plays a bigoted plantation patriarch during the final years of slavery just prior to the Civil War. Susan George is his oversexed daughter who has a torrid affair with a virile slave (played by boxer Ken Norton). The story focuses on the cruelty and depravity of Southern slave owners and includes scenes of sadistic punishments and interracial sex.
This highly controversial film was widely panned by critics but nonetheless earned enough revenue to warrant a sequel. Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide gives the film a "bomb" rating and comments: "Trashy potboiler will appeal only to the S&M crowd."
The spanking scenes
First, a male slave is taken out to a barn, hung naked by his ankles and savagely beaten with a large wood paddle to the point of bleeding. A scene of disturbing cruelty with no attempt at fetishistic eroticism.
By contrast, the second scene is purely erotic in tone. Perry King plays a young Southern gentleman. He and a friend take two pretty slave girls to an upstairs bedroom in the plantation house. King is shocked to see his friend shove his girl onto the edge of the bed and whip her bare behind with his belt.
Filmed from a head-on point of view, we see her open-mouthed expression of surprise and pain as she yelps after each stroke. "It makes a man feel good", the friend explains. "She likes it—don't you, pretty wench?" The frightened slave stammers, "Yesss, master".
King and the girl he's chosen leave the room in disgust as his friend continues to beat the slave with his belt.
In another scene, the Susan George character flies into a drunken rage and repeatedly flogs a fully dressed female slave on the back and backside with a martinet whip.
Sequel and influence
The 1976 sequel, Drum, which lacked any corporal punishment scenes, was also panned by film critics. Leonard Maltin called it "a new and dreadful low in lurid characters and incidents."
Nevertheless, both films were profitable enough to inspire a few cheap imitations made in Europe as well as America that were equally exploitive and offensive. The most obvious copy was a low-budget Italian sexploitation film called Mandinga which was released in 1976. In this film a beautiful slave girl is bound, whipped and sexually assaulted by her sadistic master.
There is also a masochistic white Southern belle who bares her breasts for a vigorous frontal flogging that drives her into a sexual frenzy.