I had a girl crush on actress Pam Grier. As a child, I would stare at her movie posters just wishing God would one day mold my body into her exquisite form. (He never did.) Over time, that crush evolved from its superficial beginnings into one based on her incredible body of work.
Despite the derogatory blaxploitation appellation, Grier’s films often featured her in powerful roles that sought to avenge the wrongs of her male adversaries. She famously played a nurse out for revenge on drug dealers in 1973’s Coffy. While seeking revenge on boyfriend’s killer in the classic Foxy Brown a year later, she saves a Black woman from a life of drugs and prostitution. In the 1970s and beyond (see Miami Vice, and Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown), Grier more than lived up to her billing as the “baddest one-chick hit squad in town.”
This past weekend at the Film Society Lincoln Center in New York City, Pam Grier signed copies of Foxy: My Life in Three Acts and spoke with fans and journalists alike amidst a film festival devoted entirely to her oeuvre: Foxy: The Complete Pam Grier. EBONY.com took this prime opportunity to speak one-on-one with Black America’s original “baddest chick.”
EBONY: How did it come about that the Film Society of Lincoln Center featured your films in a retrospective?
Pam Grier: The idea came from Josh Strauss, one of the programmers. To my knowledge, this is the first time that the Film Society has celebrated the work of an African-American actress in an extended retrospective.
EBONY: If a director remade Foxy Brown and Coffy today, which young Black actress do you think would be most adept at playing your roles?
PG: It would be an actor who would have a comprehension of what the evolution of the woman’s movement of independence and equality was in the ’70s to today, and how the movement is apparent in today’s society 50 years later. My films reflected woman’s dominance, independence and the quest for equality intellectually and physically.
EBONY: What films in the retrospective are you most proud of because they showcased your acting chops?
PG: Jackie Brown, Fort Apache: The Bronx [and] Above the Law.
EBONY: Which film was the most difficult to make of them all?
PG: Jackie Brown, because of the varied storylines told within the story between Jackie and Ordell (Sam Jackson’s character), Michael Keaton’s character and Max Cherry, played by Robert Forrester.
To be on stage in front of an audience nude was organic and a performance truth. And your nipples may react to the air conditioning in the room.
EBONY: In which film did you enjoy working with your co-star the most?
PG: Jackie Brown. I had a gumbo of actors to work with and enjoy off the set. I had known Robert De Niro through his first wife, and knew Michael Keaton when he was a stand-up comedian, before he became a powerful actor in Beetlejuice and Batman. Samuel Jackson got me hooked on golf lessons, and Robert Forrester I remembered from his early TV.
EBONY: Is there a film you wish you could bury?
PG: No films to bury or spray with a disinfectant! [laughter] All are different and a commitment to your craft. Now, there could be a few directors I may have issue with.
EBONY: You’ve said in the past that instead of being ashamed of your work in so-called blaxploitation, you were proud of it. Why should young women embrace your work from the early 1970s? What can they learn from it?
PG: Interesting question. Ashamed of one’s commitment of craft or organic truth of theater? Just play your truth. For example, in some cultures nudity is feared in film and society. Today, you see Helen Hunt, Kerry Washington, Cherlize Theron, Ann Hathaway, Halle Berry—just to name a few—tell their truth in their nudity and character. Many actors cannot, and are limited by dogma or psychology. I was committed to my nudity 45 years ago.
In the brilliant stage play Frankie and Johnny and the Clair de Lune written by Terrance McNally, the two characters are nude on stage for a brief period. Not many actors can commit to that truth. [Ed. note: Grier co-starring in the stage play in 1980.] To be on stage in front of an audience nude was organic and a performance truth. And your nipples may react to the air conditioning in the room.
Kiratiana Freelon is author of Kiratiana's Travel Guide to Multicultural London: Get Lost and Get Found. Follow her on Twitter @kiratiana.