IT WAS 25 YEARS AGO TODAY: When Pam Grier strode out as Foxy Brown

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The Independent Culture
This week in 1974, buried among the blockbuster adverts was a small, low-key invitation: "Foxy's in town so gather `round ... and watch a real shakedown. Cause she's got drive and that ain't jive. She don't bother to bring `em back alive." Foxy was Pam Grier, then the third most bankable actress in Hollywood; Foxy Brown was the latest offering from the prolific and provocative Blaxploitation movie industry. It was also one of the last.

The genre began with Melvin Van Peebles's Sweet Sweetback's Badasssss Song in 1971, a ground-breaking all-black production (written, directed and scored by Peebles) whose raw, politicised message created an entirely new audience. This success was immediately consolidated by the hip clothes, funky music and swaggering cool of two massive hits - Shaft (1971) and Superfly (1972). The IoS's David Thomson says it was "the first time that black films, made principally about black attitudes for black audiences, got a big white audience. Richard Roundtree (the star of Shaft) became a cultural hero. He had a cool but insolent attitude. And it was copied by white kids as well."

Between 1971 and 1975 over 200 Blaxploitation films were churned out. Director Jack Hill was king of the cult; over the course of more than 17 films, Pam Grier became its undisputed queen. In Hill's Foxy Brown Grier avenges the murder of her lover by drug dealers. The film bore a marked resemblance to Coffy (1973), Grier and Hill's biggest hit, in which she avenges the death of her heroin-addict sister; the New York Times said the "well-endowed black beauty" was in "a rut". But the LA Times thought the opposite: "a funny thing is happening ... the wooden lady shows promise of becoming a sensitive and affecting performer". It was the genre that was fizzling out.

It wasn't until the late 1980s that a new wave of black film-makers emerged, with Spike Lee, John Singleton and the Wayans brothers. But it was a white geek who offered Grier her second chance to fufill the LA Times prophecy. Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown (1998) was a homage to, and reinterpretation of, a genre he'd already mined in Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. Tarantino's main man, Samuel L Jackson, has compared him to his daughter's "little, white hip-hop friends. They're basically black kids with white skin".

Jack Hill hasn't made a film since 1981, though his Switchblade Sisters (1975) was rereleased earlier this year. Despite widespread acclaim for her performance in Jackie Brown, Pam Grier is awaiting another serious role. But the spirit of Foxy seems hard to live down. And it lives on, in the name - and attitude - of the multi-million-selling Brooklyn rapper.

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