BFI celebrates Pam Grier with a new season – Film News |

The BFI today announces the program for PAM GRIER: FOXY, FIERCE AND FEARLESS, a major new retrospective devoted to one of the legends of black action cinema of the 1970s; Programmed by film specialist Mia Mask, the season will take place at the BFI Southbank from September 1 to October 4. The centerpiece of the season will be PAM GRIER IN TALK on September 9, where the iconic star will take to the BFI Southbank Stage to discuss his incredible career, as well as a special screening of FOXY BROWN (Jack Hill, 1974) on September 10 September, which will be followed by a Q&A with Grier. Pam Grier will also take part in the Q&A at the Ritzy Picturehouse and the MAC on September 10 and 11 respectively, with the two theaters also showing key films from her career.

The season’s programmer, Mia Mask, commented that: “Grier rose to prominence as a ruthless, coffee-colored, vengeful femme fatale in the sexploitation and Blaxploitation movies of the 1970s. They were campy movies and irreverent shows in which women confronted the iron cage of patriarchy, and black women challenged the hierarchies of gender, race and class. Grier became an icon because she represented activists working in the “real” world; her characters were powerful women who symbolized such figures as politician Shirley Chisholm, researcher Angela Davis, and black panther Kathleen Cleaver, all of whom continue to resonate in contemporary political struggles.

This 14-film retrospective presents three stages of Grier’s unorthodox career – first, the early “Sexploitation start-up” phase, characterized by images of women in prison such as THE BIG DOLL HOUSE (Jack Hill, 1971) and BLACK MAMA, WHITE MAMA (Eddie Romero, 1973). Then come Blaxploitation cult classics such as COFFY (Jack Hill, 1973), FOXY BROWN (Jack Hill, 1974), and SHEBA, BABY (William Girdler, 1975), in which women are ultimately portrayed as active narrative agents. Finally, the last phase of nostalgia in which Grier leaned on films like IN TOO DEEP (Michael Rymer, 1999), BONES (Ernest Dickerson, 2001) and Quentin Tarantino’s reverent JACKIE BROWN (1997), whose the latter will be republished by Park Circus on September 16 to mark its 25th anniversary.

Season programmer Mia Mask will give a richly illustrated talk, PAM GRIER: ICON AND TRAILBLAZER, on September 8; the talk will explore Grier’s career and feature the films of the season. This season intro also includes a discussion with guest speakers offering different approaches to Grier’s star character as well as his influence in film and popular culture. BFI Southbank’s regular event series PHILOSOPHICAL SCREENS, which explores cinema through a philosophical lens, will focus on JACKIE BROWN (Quentin Tarantino, 1997) on September 20. Regular film philosophers Lucy Bolton and Catherine Wheatley, along with guest speaker John Ó Maoilearca, will examine the film’s tribute to Grier and his place in film history.

Please note: some films contain offensive content, including sexual assault, racist language and violence against women.

The first phase of Grier’s “Sexploitation start-up” is characterized by images of women in prison that were thinly veiled excuses to stage homoerotic tension:
– The first of three images of deliberately campy sexploitation and women in prison set on a tropical Pacific island, THE BIG DOLL HOUSE (Jack Hill, 1971), proved to be a breakthrough in Grier’s career.
– In FEMMES EN CAGES (Gerardo de León, 1971) the innocent Carol, played by Grier, is falsely convicted of drug trafficking and sentenced to internment in Carcel del Infierno, a deplorable prison in the heart of a tropical jungle. There, Carol faces a ragtag crew of hostile but beautiful cellmates, abusive guards, and sadistic punishments.
– THE BIG BIRD CAGE (Jack Hill, 1972) sees Blossom (Grier) and his armed comrades rob a tropical Philippine nightclub to support their revolutionary cause. When Blossom and her co-conspirators are arrested by the police, they are imprisoned in a government labor camp outside Manila.
– Grier stars Lee Daniels alongside Margaret Markov’s Karen Brent in BLACK MAMA, WHITE MAMA (Eddie Romero, 1973), a tribute to Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis in THE DEFIANT ONES. Racial tensions erupt between Grier and Markov, chained fugitives on the loose somewhere in a Latin American island republic. As they attempt to escape, the women must first survive themselves.
– After the commercial triumph of BLACK MAMA, WHITE MAMA, the filmmakers sought to recreate its box office success. Filmed on location in Italy and set in ancient Rome, THE ARENA (Steve Carver, 1973) brings to life the wandering characters of Grier and Markov captured and sold into servitude as female gladiators.

Women were eventually portrayed as active narrative agents in classic 1970s Blaxploitation, while later noir action films represented a shift in tone in Grier’s career:
– Nurse by day and vigilante by night, the eponymous COFFY by Pam Grier (Jack Hill, 1973) is always tough. Now she has a score to settle: avenge her eleven-year-old little sister by punishing the drug dealers and barons responsible for poor LuBelle’s addiction.
– Made as a follow-up to the hit COFFY, Grier finds himself once again in the role of a vengeful archangel battling predatory drug traffickers who prey on urban African Americans in FOXY BROWN (Jack Hill, 1974). Drug kingpin Steve Elias is the cunning villain responsible for murdering Foxy’s boyfriend, narcotics agent Michael and his brother Link, Seeking revenge, Foxy goes undercover to infiltrate the Elias cartel.
– In SHEBA, BABY (William Girdler, 1975), Sheba Shayne, one of Chicago’s top private investigators, is summoned to Louisville, Kentucky, to help stop racketeers from taking over her father’s loan company. When her father is killed by gangsters, she joins forces with her former partner to bring down the gang’s leader, the shark.
– Based on the Chicago Tribune/New York New adventure comic of the same name, FRIDAY FOSTER (Arthur Marks, 1975) features Yaphet Kotto as a fearless private detective and Grier as a high fashion model turned investigative photographer. Grier’s Friday is no longer the voluptuous gun-toting vigilante, wearing dashikis, is a camera-wielding private detective, fully dressed and neatly groomed.
– Richard Pryor and Grier team up for GREASED LIGHTNING (Michael Schultz, 1977), biopic, loosely based on the life story of Wendell Scott, the first African-American NASCAR race winner and NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee in 2015. In 1930s Virginia, Wendell made a name for himself as one of the fastest racers. After a stint in the army, he returns home, marries Mary Jones (Grier) and tries to settle down. But a brush with the law gets him back on track and soon proves he’s the best.

Grier lends his gravitas to films like Quentin Tarantino’s JACKIE BROWN, as well as IN TOO DEEP and BONES in the late 90s and early 2000s:
– ORIGINAL GANGSTAS (Larry Cohen, 1996) places Fred Williamson at the head of a reunited mod team that includes Jim Brown, Pam Grier, Richard Roundtree and Ron O’Neal. Like SHEBA, BABY, John Bookman returns home after a gang war injures his father. The attack prompts John, a professional football coach and former gang member, to find the shooter and clean up John’s old neighborhood.
– Tarantino’s thrilling homage to ’70s Blaxploitation movies JACKIE BROWN (Quentin Tarantino, 1997) introduced Pam Grier to a new generation while cementing her place in movie history as the first female action star the cinema.
– IN TOO DEEP (Michael Rymer, 1999) follows a recent police academy graduate who aspires to work undercover. His wish comes true when he’s tasked with taking down an infamous crack dealer, but somewhere along the way he gets lost in his alias – or so his superiors fear. Grier provides excellent support as a veteran detective in this inner-city crime thriller.
– Ernest Dickerson’s BONES Chiller (2001) is a homage to Blaxploitation horror starring Snoop Dogg and Pam as the ghosts of glamorous gangsters Jimmy Bones and Pearl, bent on revenge two decades after corrupt cops murdered Bones.


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