Pam Grier: Fierce, feminine, and, above all, foxy, Pam Grier is still the baddest.
By Justin Remus
Ever since she electrified movie screens during the blaxploitation craze of the 70s, Pamela Suzette Grier has been part of the public consciousness. Years before mainstream action heroines were kicking butt alongside their male counterparts, Grier embodied strength, resilience, and beauty without compromising her femininity.
The offspring of an Air Force mechanic dad and nurse mom, Grier learned to be tough while growing up in countries such as England and Germany before settling in Denver, Col. After she relocated to Los Angeles to attend UCLA…
…she took a gig as a backup singer/composer for soul singer Bobby Womack. That didn’t pay the bills, though, so she took a job as a receptionist at the B-movie studio, American International Pictures. It was there that she was noticed by low-budget filmmaker Roger Corman, whose eye for talent had launched the careers of Jack Nicholson, Martin Scorsese, and many others.
Corman cast her in a series of microbudgeted women-in-prison films, a particularly exploitative genre that relied on scantily clad, cat-fighting women for its entertainment value. In roles that were designed to be nothing more than eye candy for late-night audiences, Grier delivered powerful, dignified performances. Overnight, a star was born.
Grier’s popularity led to a contract with her former employer, American International. She became one of cinema’s biggest box-office draws with blaxploitation classics such as Coffy and Foxy Brown, playing no-nonsense women who exact violent revenge on the men who wronged them. With her voluptuous figure, unflappable confidence, and natural screen she quickly became an icon of the B-movie scene.
Although Grier’s career cooled after the blaxploitation craze died out, she was far from forgotten. After years of supporting roles, she was brought back to the public eye when director Quentin Tarantino, a lifelong fan, cast her in the title role of Jackie Brown. Her career-best performance drew rave reviews and relaunched her career. She now plays Kit Porter on the popular Showtime drama, The L Word.
If Pam Grier hadn’t paved the way for sexy, independent women in cinema, there would be no Charlie’s Angels, no Lara Croft, and certainly no Beatrix Kiddo (the heroine of Tarantino’s Kill Bill series). Even today, her formidable legacy continues to inspire. When raptress Foxy Brown asked the actress’ permission to use the name of her most famous character as her hip-hop moniker, the characteristically modest Ms. Grier replied, “You don’t need to ask. If you’re an independent woman, every woman is Foxy Brown.
Copyright Star Media Spring 2007