Pam Grier at BFI. Image by Tim Sandle.
Pam Grier her acting career spans fifty years and her work is currently undergoing a retrospective at the British Film Institute (BFI) in London. The retrospective naturally includes Jackie Brownthe film that revived her career, as well as the many films of the 1970s that first brought her to prominence and established her as a leading female icon, possibly the first female action star.
To accompany one of the screenings, Grier attended and took part in an interview, after which the audience asked a few questions. Such was the enthusiasm of the 73-year-old Grier and his lengthy responses, the forty-minute session did not allow for too many questions, but Grier filled the time with many anecdotes.
These anecdotes tell of her life growing up in relative poverty in the countryside prior to her attending Los Angeles Grier film school, and also had a brief stint in the music scene, providing background vocals for Bobby Womack and Sly Stone. She was noticed by a B-horror film director. Roger Korman, which provided an entrance to the cinema. This led to her starring in half a dozen films in the 1970s.
Pam Grier turned out to be witty, witty and funny. She was also well aware of the relationship between her work and changing social norms and values. Not only did she help propel actors of color into the mainstream, she also promoted women in film, especially by giving women lead roles in action films.
Many of Grier’s works of the 1970s are related toblack exploitation‘kinds of films. Generally lucrative and capable of reaching diverse audiences, these films have been equally criticized for perpetuating stereotypical characters for certain sections of society who are often involved in criminal activities.
Grier acknowledges this, as well as the cultural significance of bringing black actors into the mainstream and changing the gender imbalance in certain roles.
In many of these films, the female lead will simply be a decorator for the protagonist. In Grier’s films, she plays the lead role and plays an active role. In a film shown at the BFI, 1974 Foxy Brown, Grier gets the better of a criminal gang, consisting mainly of white people. This film represents Grier’s work of the 70s, where her character demonstrates the insidious ability to take revenge on the men who defy her.
The cult status of the role is manifested in the fact that Quentin Tarantino renamed Jackie Burke’s character from “Rum Punch” to “Jackie Brown” in his film of the same name, as a tribute Foxy Brown.
Grier continues to act, making occasional film appearances as well as successful television shows in the US, including Kate “Kit” Porter on the Showtime drama series. L word (2004–2009) and Constance Terry on the ABC sitcom. Bless this mess (2019–2020).
During the conversation, Grier mentioned a new project she’s working on in which she’ll write and direct a television series that will feature female leads and won’t shy away from reflecting what’s going on in society at large.