Pam Grier’s “Foxy” Memoir: A Life In Three Acts
Review by Sable Verity
Growing up a Black child of the 80’s in an all white town, I wasn’t really “in” to the Blaxploitation movie experience. My parents never watched them and there weren’t enough Black people around that I’d happen to see one at a friend’s house on a random Saturday.
Then cable television came into my life and I saw Dolemite. I was probably 7 years old, and I remember being confused; completely aware that it was a “Black” movie. I thought, why would Black people separate themselves like that? Why would they want to make a movie with just… each other?
It made me uncomfortable and I didn’t understand why at the time. I didn’t know just how segregated and white washed Hollywood was then (and still is today). I didn’t understand how stereotypes about Black people and Black culture ruled how Black characters were portrayed.
I didn’t like the word “Blaxploitation.” The mere idea that Blacks were being exploited- or were exploiting themselves helped me justify the distance I maintained between me and the genre.
Then I saw a movie called Coffy starring Pam Grier.
Grier played a woman who worked as a nurse by day, but dished out vigilante street justice by night.
At ten years old, I had never seen a Black woman on any screen, big or small, who was more powerful. I was used to maids, hookers and school drop-outs. But Pam Grier was smart, fearless and beautiful…. and that was… me. I could be that when I grew up. I could be fearless, I could be powerful, and I could be beautiful in my own way.
Suddenly I had a Black role model. I knew all of her characters and movie roles. But who was she?
In her memoir, Foxy; My Life In Three Acts, Grier gives a vivid account of life in 3 segments; Act 1 The Early Years, Act 2 Fro’s and Freaks, and Act 3 Finding The Balance. Her story begins growing up under segregation. Her earliest influences were her family- and racism. Aside from the challenges of learning how to traverse the rules of race, childhood was carefree.
That all changed after her sixth birthday when she was held down and sexuality assaulted by three boys in an upstairs bedroom at her aunt’s house. She writes:
“In the space of an afternoon, I had gone from being a lively, self-confident young lady, excited about life, to a shy girl soon to be known as “Quiet Pammy,” a frightened, insecure child who stuttered whenever she tried to talk.”
She was traumatized and forever changed. She never told a soul.
From there the journey took her through horse pastures, across the ocean, back to the states, through the pain of parental divorce, a second rape- this time by a one-time date, beauty pageants, college studies and finally, Hollywood…and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Yes, I was stunned too, but by Act Two Grier is just warming up.
Thankfully the book doesn’t read like a kiss-and-tell-all, though, that would have been easy. Grier gives candid accounts of her relationships with Abdul-Jabbar and Freddie Prinze Sr. However it was details of her relationship with Richard Pryor which left me gasping in disbelief. Sorry, you’ll have to read it yourselves to find out that one.
Through it all, Grier honors the love she had for the men in her life, no matter how the relationships ended.
Grier also lets us into the world of a rising superstar in “the business.” Her success came through opportunities that seemed to fall in her lap when she least expected them. Entranced with film study and movie making, Grier never had any desire to be in front of the camera. She agreed to take on roles to pad her college savings account, and her career founds its legs from there, taking off. Her honesty, intelligence and unassuming nature helped her seemingly breeze past other actresses and right into successful films.
She emphasizes her commitment to her craft through her story of auditioning to star opposite Paul Newman as a drug addicted, murderous prostitute. (I have to wonder if she’s eaten any cherry pie since then).
Grier mixed and mingled with the top stars; Sammy Davis Jr. (she and his wife were very close friends), John Lennon and Minnie Riperton to name a few.
She reveals the most painful chapters of her life in the deaths of those closest to her; her sister, Minnie and others, and the overwhelming impact of “the C word”- how it stripped away friends and families- and nearly claimed her own life.
Her stories are raw, unapologetic and poignant.
Through it all Pam Grier remains grounded and balanced, with a fulfilled existence away from the hustle and bustle of Hollywood or New York- one she could only achieve by staying true to herself no matter what others wanted from her.
Her place in movie and pop-culture history is cemented- there can never be another Coffy, another Foxy, another Charlotte or another Kit.
Through “Foxy” we are reminded it is the woman behind the iconic characters we should cherish most; she is discovered piece by piece in the pages of her memoir. A beautiful, strong, determined Black woman who picked herself up every time the trials and pain of life struck her down.
Without the essence of the woman, without her willingness to channel herself and her life experiences into the characters we love so much, those same characters would have never made any impact at all.
Pam Grier has been a role model for more than twenty years. We finally have a chance to know who she really is.
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