Pam Grier was never one to turn the other cheek; however, she might turn yours.
Then again, one could expect no less from arguably cinema’s first female action hero, who is best known for 1972’s “The Big Bird Cage” (produced by B-movie king/Detroit native Roger Corman), 1973’s “Coffy” and 1974’s “Foxy Brown”— all Blaxploitation films.
“There were quite a few black males that had done work in this genre before me, but as soon as I stepped into the men’s shoes, it became exploitation. This was from the conservative moment that didn’t want me out of the kitchen, and wanted me barefoot and pregnant and wifey. When that happened, they called it ‘Blaxploitation,’” said Grier, 64, of Colorado.
“I had the skill and confidence to bring my background with me as part of the ongoing global women’s movement that was happening all over the world. I just happened to be one of the first to bring it to film. And it resonated.”
Grier will appear at the Redford Theatre in Detroit for its Pam Grier Film Festival Friday and Saturday (see sidebar). Although she’s been to Detroit before, she’s never been to the Redford and looks forward to it.
“It’s gonna be great. I can’t wait to see it. I love Detroit. I’ve always considered Michigan a great state,” said Grier. “I want to be part of (Detroit’s) rebuilding. It would be great to continue to show my films there… because Detroit has been such a dominating industrial force for so long in the world. To see it stop and now recover is amazing.”
Grier’s place in cinematic history is without question. George Popovich, a film and drama professor at Henry Ford Community College in Dearborn, went a bit further, saying “Blaxploitation films are genre films.”
“Genre films are predicated on the notion that the same type of film keeps getting made again and again until it no longer sells,” he said. “For the genre to continue, it must adapt, change, and offer viewers a new take… Blaxploitation films represented a successful attempt to alter the formula of the low-budget B-film.”
After the Blaxploitation era ended, Grier appeared in small or supporting parts for a number of years, most notably 1981’s “Fort Apache, The Bronx” and “Above the Law.” She had a recurring role on NBC’s “Miami Vice” and guest-starred on many TV series, including “The Cosby Show,” “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air,” “Martin,” “Mad TV” and “Crime Story.”
Her career experienced a revitalization in 1997 when director Quentin Tarantino cast Grier in the titular role of “Jackie Brown,” an homage to her Blaxploitation roles and based on late Michigan author Elmore Leonard’s novel “Rum Punch.” Grier earned numerous award nominations for “Jackie Brown,” including a Golden Globe.
“I absolutely adore Quentin. He’s incredible… He’s very observant and what he always says, I try to do better. When people do that for you, that’s the greatest gift. If I never worked again, it was the pinnacle to work with (Quentin),” said Grier.
Added Popovich: “Tarantino did much to reboot the careers of stars like Grier (and John Travolta) with his films. He made these stars cool again… Grier paved the way for high-end female action stars, such as Angelina Jolie.”
From 2004-09, Grier appeared as Kit Porter on Showtime’s “The L Word” — a drama about lesbians and their circle of friends in West Hollywood — where she was nominated for the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series.
“I had to do ‘The L Word’ because I had no idea the discriminatory practices against the gay community. I didn’t know they couldn’t get benefits, insurance, or have children. You just assume that everyone is equal — and that’s not true,” she said.
“It was a very extraordinary learning experience. I don’t have gay-dar. I don’t know who’s gay — I don’t care. People are people first. Nobody should have any right to stop people from whom they want to procreate with,” explained Grier. “I had people ask me if I was afraid to do ‘The L Word’ because I might turn gay. I said, ‘No. Do you think I might turn into a horse because I hang around my horse?’ It’s really not catching. A third of our society is gay. Keep people ignorant and they’ll create obstacles and civil unrest. I don’t want to be ignorant; I need to know, I need to learn.”
For three episodes, she played Amanda Waller, a hard-nosed government agent who oversees clandestine operations, on the Superman series “Smallville.”
“I loved that character. I loved PLAYING her! The universe sent that role to me. I didn’t have to look for it and I’m like, ‘Amanda Waller? Are you kidding me? I’ll do it!’” she recalled.
Grier is currently filming the TV series “Black Hawk,” which is slated to air in late 2014.
“Think ‘Homeland’ and ‘Strikeback’ with a little flavah, a little spice,” described Grier.
Grier’s as tough as her characters — she’s had to be. She’s been attacked three times in her life — as early as 6 when she was raped by two boys — and was diagnosed with cancer in 1988, where she was given 18 months to live.
But Grier survived.
All this was detailed in her 2010 autobiography, “Foxy: My Life in Three Acts.”
“Either I victimize myself or come out the other side. I won’t let it knock me down. It didn’t kill me. There are scares, but I’ve learned from it and I can share that with others,” she said.
“I’m okay. It made me a better person… a stronger person. I’ve had a boyfriend who said I was tainted. Do you see me unable to get out of bed? No, you see me vibrant, full of life… Life is too short. If I wake up and I’m breathing, I’m gonna have a good day.”
The Pam Grier Film Festival at the Redford Theatre in Detroit
On Friday and Saturday, actress Pam Grier will be appearing at the Redford Theatre, 17360 Lahser in Detroit. There, she will be speaking about three of her best-known films, arriving one hour before show times to meet fans and sign autographs. The following movies that will be shown are:
• “Coffy” will be screened Friday at 8 p.m. Tickets cost $6.
• “Foxy Brown” will be screened Saturday at 2 p.m. Tickets cost $6.
• “Jackie Brown” will be screened Saturday at 8 p.m. Tickets cost $6.
There will also be a VIP event Saturday from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. This event includes dinner at the Old Redford Banquet Center (across from the Redford), an 8×10 autographed glossy photo, a special presentation by Grier and admission into “Jackie Brown” with priority seating. Tickets cost $50. Seating is limited.
To sign up for the VIP event or for questions/further information, contact the Redford at (313) 333-0800 or go to www.redfordtheatre.com.