She’s won fame and acclaim for her film roles, emboldened an entire generation of African-American women on the cusp of a civil and sexual revolution in the 60s and 70s and along the way, survived cancer, sexual assaults and broken hearts. She’s a public woman who has endured the private pain of racism, sexism and classism, but still manages to expect the best out of life, love and humanity. It’s been a long and rocky road for the iconic Pam Grier, but even as she admits to the shortcomings in her chosen field and society, the 61-year-old is anything but ready to call it a day.“The film industry is very, very liberal.” she says in a recent phone conversation from her ranch home in rural Colorado. By the time you read this, she will be in Texas to promote her best-selling autobiography entitled Foxy: My Life In Three Acts. “But the public is not. They will make one black movie and ten white movies just to keep a profit going. There are still a lot of actors that won’t kiss a woman of color. The attraction is usually for Hispanic women, they’re ‘exotic’ with light brown skin and long silky hair, and many of the sisters are dark and have short nappy hair, so they are not seen as the object of attraction and they’re not what the public buys.
Still, Hollywood is a private industry that I’m privileged to be a part of and you can’t tell people how to spend their own money. You have to think of the industry like a business, strictly a business.”Given that Hollywood is still, in many ways, so rigid in its thinking, how would she explain her appeal and impact? Ms. Grier believes that timing and tenacity both played a part, as well as her experience as an army brat and political activist. “The women (I portrayed) were so raw, and Roger Corman (who cast her in one of her very first films, The Big Dollhouse) probably looked at me and thought She looks like Angela Davis and can handle guns because she used them to hunt, fish and camp growing up, she understands the military theory of killing and war, she knew of international world politics at an early age and urban law, warfare and sociology. But at the end of the day, people are going to want to see human stories, and they enjoy that beyond all of the other marginalization.”Last seen in this spring’s Queen Latifah and Common romantic comedy, Just Wright,
Ms. Grier is currently filming Larry Crowne, starring Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts. “I get a movie usually every ten years, but it’s a privilege to work with Tom Hanks, who is so inclusive. I hadn’t been asked to play a superstar’s best friend, ever, because studios aren’t in the business of promoting international good will: that’s not their intention; they’re there to make movies. It’s just so complex and broad, because people have the prerogative to tell whatever story they want to, but working with him and Julia is just great.”Not that she’s trying to compare the difficulties in the entertainment industry to the hardships she’s endured in her own life: in fact, part of the reason she found herself writing Foxy… was to inspire others to come to grips with their pain just as she was able to do. “You have no idea how many presentations I’ve been to, with both men and women, where they’ve stood up and talked about their abuse and felt free to do that since I talked about it in my book. I have the wounds, but I understand so much more now, and I’m glad that I kept my family intact (by not revealing to her family who the guilty parties were). To have to see the sadness on my grandfather’s or my uncle’s faces…they would’ve felt so defeated that they failed me, and they would’ve gotten angry if I’d told them what happened and possibly go to jail for killing somebody. We were a black family, so we needed everyone to survive. At that time, the male members of my family went through so much racially on a daily basis, with discrimination, living in the Jim Crow era, dealing with places they couldn’t go, things they couldn’t say or do, and they’d come home angry, so I wanted home to be like a sanctuary. I didn’t want to see my family crumble and fall apart.”
And just as she was concerned for her world as a child and a young woman, Ms. Grier isn’t afraid to share her personal opinions on the current state of politics and the global community. She supports President Barack Obama (“they treat him like he’s this great uber-negro, who can come in and wave a wand and fix almost 10 years of madness”), is discouraged at the dumbing down of America (“we’re now number eighteen in the world economy and have such stupid people undermining our president. It’s frightening”), adores Professor Michael Eric Dyson (“He’s our generation’s Nietzsche, oh my God what a brilliant man! Can you hear me now?”) and wants everyone, especially young people, to get the best out of life by pursuing the highest levels of education possible. “To walk around with your pants sagging and look like you’re out of work every day is not a cool look. Education is an adventure, it’s like a puzzle. I never tell children—and I’m around so many of them—that it is h-a-r-d. Kids these days need learn another language and think outside of the box, we are global. It’s the Unites States of the World. You can always go back home, but if you care about the world, the world will care for you.”