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bhm: lady grier, the woman behind foxy brown

February 27, 2019
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I’d argue that Black female sexuality wasn’t claimable until Pam Grier made it so. Standing tall at about 5 foot 8 inches, the statuesque actress is known best for her roles in Blaxploitation films like Foxy Brown where she played an ass-kicking girlfriend embittered after her government agent boyfriend is slain by drug dealers. The violent and sexual role solidified her as an on-screen siren but also as an in-charge bad ass woman who was capable of keeping up with, and even defeating, men. As a Black woman, she was a worthy counterpart.

Playing Foxy or not, Grier’s sexy persona rarely has strayed far from her ass-kicking counterpart. In fact, when we look back on her legacy, it’s hard to separate the myth from the legend. And that’s what we’re going to do today. As a screen siren, Grier is an iconoclast. She presented an image of femininity and sexuality.

But the 70’s are long since gone and so are groundbreaking roles for women in the cinema were “practically invisible, or painfully stereotypical” and she wasn’t getting roles like Tarantino’s 1997 Jackie Brown, which brought Grier back into the public consciousness anymore. Where does a woman — a star — like Grier who isn’t, say, a Meryl Streep or Glenn Close go? As it turns out, she goes to the ranch. Which is where you’d find Pam Grier nowadays. “You know, I had to bump heads with a lot of men in the industry,” Grier once told The Guardian. “They were not comfortable with showing a progressive Black female in an action role. As a strong woman, I was seen as a threat. There was a fear that women would mimic me in real life. I remember certain people saying: ‘Oh, she’s taking our jobs, she’s castrating men’ – as far as I was concerned, I thought: ‘We don’t need to walk behind you, we should walk beside you.’”

Grier was born in 1949 to a Cheyenne mother and a mixed-race father. There, mom worked as a nurse and her father, a mechanic in the Air Force. With two other siblings, things were tight but livable. That was until a move Denver changed everything forever. As she shares in her autobiography, Foxy: My Life in Three Acts, at age 6 she was raped by two boys, while left under the supervision of an aunt. “It took so long to deal with the pain of that,” she says in her book. “You try to deal with it, but you never really get over it… My family endured so much guilt and anger.”

The next life experience that would dramatically shape her was her 1988 stage-four cancer diagnosis after she’d gone for a routine cervical examine. “In 1988 the C-word meant: ‘Oh my God, you’re going to die. There is no hope.’ You learn who your friends are when you have cancer. Those that came to my bedside were Steven Seagal, Carl Gottlieb, my mentor, and the president of the Writers Guild and film director Tamar Hoff. They were truly amazing. But a lot of people couldn’t cope and just fell away.”

But bitch has come a long ass way since beating cancer and overcoming trauma. In 1995, Quentitn Tarinrino began working on what would become the 1997 tribute to Blaxploitation films and Foxy Brown.. The film would be called Jackie Brown and would earn Grier a much-deserved Golden Globe nomination as well as put her back in front of Hollywood. “What I know is that all my work before Jackie Brown prepared me for that part,” says Grier.

Since then, Grier has become a series regular on Law and Order: SVU and she enjoyed a five-year stint on Showtime’s The L Word (omg, please bring her back!). When she’s not working in entertainment, the legend spends time on her Colorado ranch riding her horses.