Made quickly, cheaply and released only a year after COFFY (Pam Grier and filmmaker Jack Hill’s wildly successful first feature together), FOXY BROWN announces not only itself but its titular character before the feature even begins properly. The audience is treated to a psychedelic opening credits sequence that would not seem out of place prior to a 007 picture, outside of the ubiquitous afros. This brief, but striking, ordeal climaxes with Grier in character taking aim at the camera and firing a round directly at the viewer, basically laying to waste any pre-conceived notions regarding an attractive female lead.
In her book The Violent Woman, Hilary Neroni claims that the Blaxploitation genre showcased the first contemporary violent women in cinema. Grier, for better or worse, has made a career personifying violence either in spite of or despite her gender and race. Yvonee D. Sims in her text Women of Blaxploitation states, “…blaxploitation movies provided alternative images of black femininity that signified empowerment and liberation…”. Naturally, Grier was not the only female performer to take advantage of such a prosperous venture and other genre icons were established, including Tamara Dobson as Cleopatra Jones.
Unlike most other genre cinema, the female starring Blaxploitation pictures were as popular, if not more so, than their male fronted counterparts. The genre was in no way shy of major male figures with the likes of Jim Brown, Fred Williamson and Jim Kelly appearing on screen regularly, amongst others. The reasons for the success of Grier’s films over others, especially in terms of lasting appeal, can perhaps be attributed to supply and demand. Of course, there is a much larger ideological concern at hand here but outside of fare like HANNIE CAULDER (in which the titular character played by Raquel Welch is hardly independent), there was a noticeable lack of women in positions of power on screen until the mid 1970s especially when that position of power can be measured by display(s) of violence.
What is perhaps most instantly jarring, or at least concerning, about FOXY BROWN is just how similar it is to COFFY. Both feature revenge story arcs and both have Grier masquerading as a prostitute at some point in order to gain access to a man/men. When the titular characters are not disguised to impress and/or distract the male figures in a given frame, they appear reserved if not flat out wholesome. By day (or night), COFFY works as a nurse and FOXY BROWN is…herself. Strangely enough, the latter was actually supposed to be a sequel yet American International Pictures decided against a sequel so early on and there just was not enough time to alter the script, which means that Foxy is/was likely a nurse too.
As charged by race and gender as these films may be, they do not slouch in giving viewers what they would expect from any other type of exploitative fare. Jack Hill has never been known as a huckster, as many of the well-known exploiters often were. He has a more rugged, stripped bare approach that likens him to the Don Siegels and Walter Hills of genre cinema rather than the Lee Frosts or David Friedmans. Coffy and Foxy both wield small and large guns, plenty of edge weapons and, at least Foxy, dismembered male genitals. These are not “one girl vs. all of the men” flicks either, with girls being just as liable to get an ass whooping as the guys and fairly brutally.
Perhaps naturally, both FOXY BROWN and COFFY (as well as their makers) are championed by Quentin Tarantino with the filmmaker casting Grier in his ode to the genre, JACKIE BROWN, even though the character originally written by Elmore Leonard was white and did not have that name. Its source, however, is obvious. Even the theatrical one sheet’s chosen font is that of the advertising materials for FOXY BROWN. The teaser trailer at the time of JACKIE BROWN’s release contained Quentin Tarantino in different tones saying “Pamela Grier is…” with the star finishing with the film’s title. It’s an inspired choice in advertising and shows that even more than two decades after FOXY BROWN, the delivery may have changed but Pam Grier still knows how to announce a picture.