Pam Grier will meet with fans and sign autographs at the Redford Theatre's Pam Grier Film Festival. (Pam Grier)
Foxy Brown is on the phone, and she has a message of female empowerment for women, straight from the ’70s.
“Women need to stop wasting their money on clothing and shoes,” says Foxy — er, Pam Grier. “Live your life and quit waiting for men to do it for you. Go get your Jet Ski, go buy your speedboat, your snowmobile. Have fun, live your life — and invite the men!”
As “Foxy Brown” and “Coffy,” the statuesque Grier was the ultimate black heroine of the ’70s, karate-chopping and kicking her way through a series of “blaxploitation” movies while barely mussing her Afro. And the real person is everything her movie persona promises, and more. No hothouse flower, the actress grew up in Colorado and Wyoming, riding horses, driving a tractor and learning how to live a self-sufficient life.
Grier, 64, will be in town Feb. 21-22 for the Pam Grier Film Festival at the Redford Theatre. Three of her films — “Coffy,” “Foxy Brown” and Quentin Tarantino’s 1997 “Jackie Brown” — will be shown, and she will greet fans and sign autographs an hour before each screening.
What prompted her feminist rant? The shock and awe she prompts as a black woman driving a pickup and pulling a horse trailer. Grier hauled several of her horses up to Canada from her Colorado farm when she was on location filming the cable series “The L Word.”
“People couldn’t believe it, a sister with a pickup truck and horses,” Grier says. “But hey, that’s just living my life. That’s what I promote to women: living, not being frivolous. Live outside the box! Otherwise, you’re boring. Do things. Buy your own boat, and invite the men, say, ‘You guys can bring some food and we’ll take you out on the lake.’ ”
In between travels around the world as part of an Air Force family, Grier got to live in “paradise” on the family farm in Wyoming, growing fresh food and having a horse as her first best friend. But there were tough times as well, including two sexual assaults before she was out of her teens. After her father left, her nurse mother kept the family home by working nights, serving as inspiration for Grier’s role as the industrious nurse in “Coffy.” Foxy Brown, on the other hand, was more like her troubled Aunt Mennon, a “wild and uncontrollable woman with a lot of rage.”
Grier was working in Los Angeles as a backup singer and receptionist when she was cast in the first of many Roger Corman-produced American International movies, filmed on the cheap in the Philippines. The films included “Big Doll House” and “Women in Cages,” and Grier was an adventurous natural, always up for riding a motorcycle or jumping off a cliff into a rice paddy.
Her image as the tall, gorgeous black action heroine still looms large in pop culture, partly because she always seemed to be at the nexus of what was happening, in the ’70s. She was with John Lennon and Harry Nilsson at the Troubadour in L.A. when Lennon was famously thrown out for being drunk and disorderly. Her boyfriends included Lew Alcindor (before he became Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), Freddie Prinze and Richard Pryor.
While filming an action movie in Rome, the horse Grier was riding was spooked and ran away with her clinging on for dear life, with a number of horses following. Dressed in a skimpy leopardskin with a large Afro, she rode the stallion into director Frederico Fellini’s set, where he was heard to say, “Il mio Dio, my fantasy has come true.”
Elmore Leonard always appreciated assertive women, and Grier fit the bill. The two met after Quentin Tarantino adapted the Leonard’s novel “Rum Punch” into 1997’s “Jackie Brown,” his homage to Grier, and ’70s crime movies.
“(Elmore) liked women who are intuitive and physical,” Grier recalls. “I loved his spirit, his sassiness and the fact that he gave women an equality. Not a lot of men are like that. They’re intimidated; they grew up in an environment where a woman has a certain role. He didn’t see those restrictions.”
She last spoke to the author early last summer, a few months before he died. “I had been reading his novels for years, and it made me a better writer myself,” she says. Grier’s memoir, “Foxy: My Life in Three Acts,” came out in 2010.
Grier still lives an active, outdoors life on her modest “ranchette” in Colorado, taking care of her pack of rescued horses and dogs. Living in California is out because of water/drought issues. “I can’t risk having my horses where water is a maybe,” she says.
She can speak for hours on the subject of drought and agriculture, is working with the agriculture department at Oklahoma’s Langston University and wants to fund scholarships in the field as well. “I want people to read more and create, invent. Thank God for these programs that let people find their gifts and get into colleges.”
She’s excited about Detroit’s urban farms, which she observed last year. “They should also have greenhouses so they can have fresh organic food in the winter,” Grier says. “Whole, clean food without pesticides that everyone can afford, not just the affluent. Food is what makes people less hostile.”
Although she’s had many famous mates, the actress never married or had children, a regret she doesn’t dwell on. Too often, she believes, women lose their identities in marriage. “You should always have your own independence; you’re the one who is the helmsman of your ship. Otherwise it’s the master/slave syndrome. Somebody who gives you something, can take it away.”
Pam Grier Film Festival
Redford Theatre, 17360 Lahser, Detroit
Pam Grier will appear at all three screenings, arriving an hour before showtime to greet fans and sign autographs.
8 p.m. Friday: “Coffy” (1973). Grier plays a nurse who tracks down the drug dealers responsible for her sister’s overdose. Tickets, $6
2 p.m. Saturday: “Foxy Brown” (1974). Grier infiltrates a shady modeling agency to avenge her lover’s death. Tickets, $6
8 p.m. Saturday: “Jackie Brown” (1997). Quentin Tarantino’s tribute to 1970s action films and Grier in particular has her playing a flight attendant caught between arms dealers and police. Based on the novel “Rum Punch” by Elmore Leonard. Tickets, $6