Black Women Who Slayed History: Pam Grier
This Black History Month, we’re highlighting the black woman who helped make our world what it is today. Today, we honor Pam Grier.
Who’s Pam Grier? As they put it in 1974’s “Foxy Brown,” she’s “a chick with drive who don’t take no jive.”
One of the first baddest, tough chicks, Pam Grier made a splash on the scene when she made appearances in the movie “Coffy” (1973) and her most notable film “Foxy Brown” (1974). Even though today, her role as Foxy Brown is considered an iconic character, back then she was attacked in the 70s for participating in black films a.k.a. “blaxploitation” films that were simply made for black audiences and based on stereotypes of the black community. Because of this, it took a toll on her career. However, this wouldn’t keep the original “brick house” down for long.
Born Pamela Suzette Grier on May 26, 1949, in North Carolina, growing up she moved around a lot due to her father being part of the United States Air Force as a mechanic. She spent most of her young childhood traveling from base to base — spending a number of years in England until her father left the military. The family, including her mother who was a nurse, settled down in Denver, CO.
Growing up in Denver wasn’t all gravy. Pam was raised in a strict, conservative household in a tough working class neighborhood, where she spent many days hiding her lunch money in her sock.
It was living in Denver, where she learned how to stand up for herself by fighting to keep what’s hers.
“It was pretty rough for a kid who had been sheltered on Air Force bases,” she once said, “but I am a quick study.” She may have been sheltered, but she was raised learning a rural sensibility by camping outside in a tent in the pouring rain and fishing for her food.
It wasn’t until an offer from an agent when a career as an actress even crossed her mind.
Pam was a good student, who dreamt of pursuing a career as a doctor — never acting. When she began to compete in beauty pageants it led her to her spotting by agent Dave Baumgarten at a Colorado Springs hotel during her visit for one her beauty contest. He invited her to go to Hollywood to try out acting. Initially opposed to the idea, she ultimately accepted after some convincing by her mother. To make ends meet, she worked as a switchboard operator for American International Pictures, while taking acting classes during her stay in LA.
By 1971 at 22, she made her acting debut playing one of the many sexualized inmates in Big Doll House. After, Pam swiftly made herself a key player of the supposed “blaxploitation” movies of the 70s, where she would play the role of criminals and prostitutes. Those movies were normally set in ghettos that showcased pimps, drug dealers, and gangsters.
She appeared in films such as “Hit Man” (1972), “White Mama” (1973), “Sheba Baby” (1975) and breakthrough role, “Coffy” (1974). By the time 1975 came around, Pam played a role that would become iconic, but also one that is considered to be the ultimate movie of the “blaxploitation” genre. In “Foxy Brown,” acted as a high-class prostitute out for revenge.
Though she has criticized for involvement in portraying black stereotypes, according to Biography.com, she asserted that the films served as a social function by exposing the ugly parts of the black community that still existed even after the civil rights movement.
“I showed this in the pictures and it was just so ugly and people saw it and said, ‘Wow! That’s really the way it is,'” she said. “All of a sudden there was a kind of violent reaction to it.”
Like I said before, she didn’t keep the negative affects of her involvement keep her down. During the 80s and 90s, Pam played roles in blockbusters films such as “Fort Apache, The Bronx” (1981)with Paul Newman, “Above the Law” (1988) opposite Steven Seagal, and “Mars Attacks!” (1996) with Jack Nicholson — as well TV series like “Miami Vice” (1985-1990). But it wasn’t until 1997, when Pam received her greatest acclaim when chosen by famed Quentin Tarantino for his film “Jackie Brown.” She got great reviews, earning a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress for her performance.
Later on in the 2000s, she continued her career revival on hit TV series such as “The L Word” (2004-2009) and “Smallville” (2010) — with appearances in “Just Wright” (2010) and “The Man with the Iron Fist” (2012).
Reported in 2016 by Deadline, Meagan Good is set to produce and star in reboot of the classic film “Foxy Brown” as a Hulu series. Now, this generation with get to experience what “a whole lotta woman” was and is.
For on more on the lovely Pam Grier, click here.