Pam Grier looks back on blaxploitation: ‘At the time some people were horrified’


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Pam Grier will appear Saturday at the American Cinematheque in Hollywood to sign copies of her new memoir Foxy: My Life in Three Acts and a screening of “Foxy Brown” and Jackie Brown,” but the 61-year-old star doesn’t dwell too much on her screen past. She is too busy with her hectic life, which includes philanthropic ventures and a variety of projects, including a co-starring role in an upcoming Tom Hanks movie and her recent work in the romantic comedy ‘Just Wright.’ With films such as “Coffy,” Foxy Brown and “Sheba Baby,” Grier became the queen of blaxploitation films and, with the echoes of pop culture, a touchstone figure for the hip-hop generation. Quentin Tarantino revived her star power when he featured her in 1997’s “Jackie Brown” and her memoir reveals new layers to her Hollywood story -- including stormy romances with Richard Pryor, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Freddie Prinze and her ongoing battle with cancer. Greg Braxton, who writes for the Los Angeles Times Calendar section, caught up with Grier for five questions.


GB: How are you feeling? You describe your fight with cancer in the book.

PG: I’m in remission since 1988, but every day is a gift. The cancer can come back at any time. But my spirituality is so optimistic. People really respond to my outward appearance, and I’m really diligent about rest and exercise.... I am excited about life and live each day to the fullest. So many people have opened doors for me. I wrote the book because I felt I had an opportunity to inspire people

GB: What is the question that fans ask you most often during your appearances?

PG: Men will ask me about my relationships with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and with Richard Pryor. Kareem and I are still friends, and to this day, if he ever needed me, I would be there. I’m also asked about my skin care, my health and my confidence.

GB: How do you reflect on films like “Coffy” or “Foxy Brown’? And do you have a favorite among them?

PG: I rarely watch them. I don’t have the time because I’m doing so many other things — writing a screenplay, writing this book, working on my charities. I don’t really have time to revisit my past work. If I do, I always notice the novice actor I was then, and compare it to the more accomplished actress I am today. Which is my favorite film? That would be like saying which one of my children is my favorite. There are unique points I love in all of them. “Jackie Brown” would have the most points. It meant so much that Quentin Tarantino invested two years of his life to write a movie for me. It was a milestone in my life.

GB: At the time, blaxploitation films were very controversial, criticized for their violence and images. What do you think sparked a change in perception to the point that these films are now celebrated?

PG: They had a purpose. It was important for documenting what black people were doing. At the time, some people were horrified because they felt I was posturing as a man. But my rural background always included hunting and fishing. I was strong with firearms but proved I could also be feminine.

GB: What are you up to now?

PG: I’m doing a movie “Larry Crowne,” which is written and directed by Tom Hanks. I play Julia Roberts’ best friend. It’s an incredible thrill to do it.

-- Greg Braxton


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