The Iconic Pam Grier is Teaching Black Women Why We Shouldn’t Block Our Blessings

by Xara Aziz

The legendary Foxy Brown actress Pam Grier is finally getting her flowers after Yahoo Entertainment has named her one of the industry’s Game Changers.

“I’m a game changer?” the iconic starlet asked the news outlet upon finding out the news. “I’m an auntie first,” Grier said with a laugh.

There’s no question the 73-year-old changed the game for Black women in Hollywood. She began her career in the late 60s after she was cast to star in several Roger Corman movies. But it wasn’t until the 70s when the Blaxploitation era of film made her a household name.

Such movies like CoffyFriday Foster and Sheba, Baby molded the North Carolina-born actress into one of Hollywood’s top leading ladies and her exotic and breathtaking beauty attracted the likes of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Freddie Prinze and Richard Pryor, all of whom she has been romantically linked to.

Fast forward over 40 years later, Grier says she is thankful that her role in Hollywood was able to pave the way for the industry’s up-and-coming stars.  

“I’ve been developing an audience since 1972 to be prepared for women leadership and women who are authoritative in a culture that had not been listening to women for a very long time,” Grier told Yahoo. “I believe in our sisterhood and I believe what we do is so important. And we need to continue to move forward because there are so many narratives that have been buried.”

She went on to explain that her illustrious career – spanning five decades – came to her by accident. “I didn’t even know what acting was!” she recalled. “I just wanted to get into film school, and there were only a few film schools then.”

But while she had the chops to work as a director behind the scenes, she didn’t have the money. Lo and behold, destiny would lead her down a different path.

“I just wanted to be able to capture [Black] narratives, because I knew so many growing up. I heard a lot of stories that were not in the history books. We’ve got narratives that are really powerful, and all we need is a way to tell those stories.”

To fund her education, she began acting, she said. “I wore a plaid shirt and boots from Sears — I looked very, very country,” she recounted about one of her first auditions. Casting agents fell in love with her and she would soon be cast in the 1971 women in prison movie, The Big Doll House.

“I said, ‘I’m really here to get into film school — I don’t know anything about being an actor,'” she remembers telling the film director when she got on set. “I told him, ‘Roger, before I quit my dream, you have to talk to my mama and see if it’s okay. I have to get an education … it’s a must.'”

But after reading a book he gave her called An Actor Prepares, she said she discovered a newfound love.

“I fell upon what acting is: replicating a human being so closely. The goal is to move your audience, and make them have empathy towards you. [Making that movie] was everything you would have in your undergraduate studies thrown into six weeks. And I was earning more for one week of filming than I was working three jobs!”

Grier currently lives in New Mexico and still appears on the big screen in films like Poms and the TV show This is Us. But she says she never lost her knack for making films. She credits Kasi Lemmons’s 2019 film, Harriet as one film she says is telling the narrative of Black people in a way she would have liked to have done. “Those could have been my films if I had been a filmmaker earlier,” said the bourgeoning filmmaker who stars in Turner Classic Movies’ The Plot Thickens. “I’m catching up now.”

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