Film scholars Racquel Gates and Donald Bogle detail the rise and fall of Blaxploitation, and how Pam Grier transcended the genre and stayed iconic for decades afterwards.
Legendary stunt performers Jadie David and Bob Minor go in-depth about their most dangerous stunts, working with Pam Grier, and breaking through as Black stuntpeople in the early 70s.
Ben Mankiewicz speaks to film professor, TCM host and Director and President of The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures Jacqueline Stewart about Pam Grier’s star image, the legacy of Blaxploitation, and meeting Pam at the TCM Classic Film Festival.
More from Ben Mankiewicz’s interview with Quentin Tarantino, who speaks about making Jackie Brown, enjoying Blaxploitation, and first seeing Pam when he was an impressionable 10 year-old boy.
“I had to focus on just surviving.”
After receiving a devastating diagnosis, Pam leaves Hollywood and heads home to Colorado. But she’s lured back into the spotlight when the hottest director in Hollywood gives her the role of a lifetime.
“I went to junkie places, heroin houses. It was fucking scary.”
Pam finds love on a movie set when she’s cast opposite superstar comedian Richard Pryor. She sets out to change Richard’s self-destructive ways, and succeeds – for a little while. She then immerses herself in a difficult new role, a role that gives her nightmares but could spark a comeback.
“Furniture was thrown and the next thing you know? They’d called the police.”
As the Blaxploitation craze comes to an end, Pam fights for better roles and hobnobs with the biggest names in showbiz. She meets the love of her life, a hot young comedian named Freddie Prinze — whose personal demons lead to heartbreak and tragedy.
“I couldn’t walk on the street. It’d be 5,000 people.”
Pam’s career hits new heights as Black-themed movies take the country by storm. She stars in four low-budget films in the span of one year, including two bonafide hits: Coffy and Foxy Brown. Yet her celebrity is tied to controversy, as Blaxploitation gets criticized by the Black community and snubbed by the Hollywood establishment.
“It was fucked up. We had to jump out of a damn plane.”
Pam heads to the Philippines to star in a pair of “women in prison” movies, where she endures volatile weather, skimpy costumes, and cobra encounters. She studies acting and learns everything she can about filmmaking, and her raw talent is soon recognized on the set. But Pam’s relationship with Kareem is tested when his religious convictions clash with her feminist ideals.
“Next thing you know, there’s a big ass bowl of cocaine that comes out.”
Newly arrived in Los Angeles, Pam learns underground filmmaking at UCLA and sings backup for some of the biggest musical acts of the 60s. She also has her first serious romance, with a towering basketball phenom named Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Then, a chance audition for a low-budget movie leads to Pam’s first opportunity in front of the camera, as an actor.
“We had never seen a war in our city before.”
Growing up in Colorado, young Pam Grier endures racism and trauma, but finds solace in horses and the beautiful countryside. As a teen, she visits Los Angeles for the first time, and gets caught in the middle of the historic Watts Rebellion. But after winning a beauty pageant, she meets a Hollywood agent who encourages her to give L.A. a second chance.
This is the story of Pam Grier as only she can tell it. Her sudden stardom, her iconic roles, her fights against the system. It’s a story of bravery, both onscreen and off. It’s a story about race in Hollywood and race in America. And it’s a story about how real life is a lot messier than the movies. Pam Grier joins host Ben Mankiewicz for a new season of The Plot Thickens, starting October 25.