The Blaxploitation Queen: how Pam Grier drove a dialogue of oppression and empowerment, and broke women into the action genre.
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Blaxploitation emerged as a subgenre of American cinema during the early 1970s. Thought the genre received backlash for its use of stereotypical Black characters, these films were nonetheless one of the first instances in which Black characters and their culture could be the heroes of their own narratives, rather than serving simply as victims, sidekicks or other low status characters in someone else’s story. Though controversial, Blaxploitation allowed for a rethinking of racial relations in the United States. Films like Gordon Parks’ 1971 Shaft brought the Black experience to the forefront of social consciousness, allowing for political and social issues relating to African-American communities to be explored in ways it hadn’t before. One of the foremost stars of this movement was Pam Grier. Her iconic roles in many such films, from Coffy to Foxy Brown, saw Grier hailed as the Queen of Blaxploitation. Not only was the genre primed to diversify the big screen, Pam Grier’s arrival would also redefine how Hollywood presented all women. At a time when the only roles available to women of colour were, in her words, “practically invisible, or painfully stereotypical”, Grier took B-movie roles and used her authoritative screen presence and talent to lend a strength and psychological depth to her characters that not even the films’ directors had anticipated.
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