Sunday, April 8, 2012

Foxy Brown: "She's a whole lotta woman!"

Pam Grier as Foxy Brown.
Coffy or Foxy Brown? I've been debating which Pam Grier movie to review this month (I quickly ruled out less stellar efforts like Sheba, Baby). I finally concluded that Coffy may be the better-made film, but Foxy Brown has had a greater impact on pop culture. After all, Quentin Tarantino renamed the title charactor in Jackie Brown as a tribute to Foxy. Pam Grier titled her autobiography Foxy: A Life in Three Acts. Foxy Brown has been referenced in everything from the TV show Bones (with Pam as a guest star) to an Austin Powers movie to a rapper who changed her name to...Foxy Brown.

Foxy again? No, this is
Pam as Coffy.
So who is Foxy Brown? Well, it's not clear from the 1974 film--perhaps because it was originally intended as a Coffy sequel called Burn, Coffy, Burn! (which makes no sense...because who likes burned coffee?). However, American-International Pictures decided against a Coffy follow-up at the last minute, leaving little time to revamp the screenplay. As a result, while we knew Coffy was a nurse, Foxy's occupation is never mentioned. (She earns a sizable income through some means, though, judging from her extensive, flashy wardrobe).

The film's plot hinges around the two men in her life: her inept, drug-dealing brother Link and her boyfriend, Michael, a former undercover narc who just had plastic surgery so he and Foxy can lead a normal life together. Drug dealer and narc--yes, Foxy's life is filled with irony.

Link owes $20,000 to Miss Katherine (Kathryn Loder), who operates a successful drug and prostitution business with assistance from her stylishly-dressed boyfriend Steve (Peter Brown from Ride the Wild Surf). Foxy rescues Link from Miss Katherine's thugs and lets him hide out in her house. At this point, I started to question Foxy's judgment.

Meanwhile, Michael gets released from the hospital. When he shows up at Foxy's house, Link thinks Michael looks familiar. Later, Link spots a newspaper clipping with a pre-plastic surgery photo of Michael (one has to wonder why Foxy left it out with her brother in the house). Somehow, Link--who is none too bright--figures out Michael's identity and sells that info to Miss Katherine for the $20,000 he owes. Then, Link tells his girlfriend that he's staying at Foxy's home. The thugs find out Michael's location from Link's girl and promptly gun down the former narcotics agent. When Foxy learns of Michael's demise, she barely sheds a tear before swearing to bring down those who killed him.

While one could say there's not a lot of logic in director Jack Hill's script, I could argue that there are indeed stupid people in the world. My only issue is with the plastic surgeon. If Link could recognize Michael's new face that quickly, then that plastic surgeon should have been sued for malpractice and barred from his profession. (Of course, who could sue him? His patient was dead.)

There's a gun in that Afro! Really.
The fact that Foxy Brown succeeds as solid entertainment, despite its narrative deficiencies, can be attributed wholly to Pam Grier. She dominates every scene she's in, whether she's modeling a form-fitting evening gown, pulling a gun out of her Afro after being frisked, or pummeling people that get in her way. In one of my favorite scenes, she confronts an angry lesbian bar patron trying to hit on a female friend:

Woman: Listen, skinny, before you start talking tough, I'd better warn you I have a black belt in karate. So why don't you get out of here quietly while you still got some teeth left in that ugly face?

Foxy: (knocking down a bar stool) And I've got my black belt in bar stools!

It's worthwhile to mention that Foxy Brown was one of the action films with a female hero and villain (though I wish Miss Katherine would have been a stronger character). Yet, despite all the female empowerment, there's a scene in which a captured Foxy gets victimized by two bad guys. If the intent was to add further motivation for Foxy's extreme actions at the climax, I don't buy it. Her grief over Michael's murder (which could been emphasized more) should have been adequate grounds for her actions.

Foxy Brown is a flawed film, to be sure, but an important one for its star, the promotion of strong female characters, and the Blaxploitation genre. It also created one of the great characters of the 1970s. As Link explains to his girlfriend after Foxy roughs him up: "That's my sister, baby. And she's a whole lotta woman!"


  1. I read your post and re-watched Foxy Brown. I never thought much about the female empowerment in the film and deemed it camp due to its over-the-top gestures. I should have looked harder, though. Aside from the literal emasculation, the way that Foxy figuratively emasculates men such as her brother and the judge (reflected also in that scene with the mammified nurse who gives Foxy's boyfriend a sponge bath) reminds me of a question that comes to mind whenever I analyze the actions of any marginalized group: are you looking for equality, or are you looking for revenge? Foxy Brown (like my preferred character, Coffy) seeks vengeance, reflecting some of the more controversial implications of and fears related to the Black and women's rights movements. Viewing the film as mere entertainment, I wish that Sid Haig had a larger role. He and Pam Grier had such great chemistry in Coffy that only sparked momentarily in Foxy Brown.

  2. I always thought COFFY was by far the better film, and I prefer FRIDAY FOSTER as well because Pam gets to show off a more playful side. COFFY seemed more about revenge as well, but had an interesting wrinkle with Pam's politician boyfriend turning out to be doing business with the drug dealers.

  3. I've seen Jackie Brown--does that count? LOL! Missed this one, Rick. Like everyone, I've seen clips, but I never could bring myself to watch it.

  4. Joseph and Hal, great comments! I agree that COFFY is a better film, but somehow FOXY evolved into Pam's signature film (even by her own admission). Maybe, it has aged better because it's a more stylized film (which may explain why some viewers consider it camp). Hal, you make a fine point about Foxy dominating men such as her brother and judge. Her final confrontation with Miss Katherine intrigues me. While it seems to mute the extent of Foxy's revenge, it also results in the film's two strongest characters--both women--remaining alive after all the killing.

  5. Oh, and Kim, you should watch at least one of Pam's films all the way through. I would surely include FOXY or COFFY in my list of 1001 movies to see before dying.

  6. Did Foxy Brown get wider distribution than Coffy? I've read that Coffy was a hit that gave Jack Hill the chance to do Foxy Brown, but I always wanted to know more, e.g., at how many theaters did each movie play and how much did each make at the box office.

    Hal, that plot twist in Coffy seemed to pander to the feminists/womanists. In the blaxploitation universe, white people and (black) men can both do a black woman wrong. Casting a white woman as the politician's lover at the end of Coffy was like pouring salt on the wound. After watching Foxy Brown, I also viewed some scenes with Jack Hill's commentary, and he said during the judge scene that he found the image of a black woman humiliating a white man satisfying. Thus, Hill was quite attuned how intersecting identities (race and gender) influenced acts of revenge. I'll have to listen to his commentary during the final scene for insight on why Foxy and Katherine survived--indeed the strongest characters, as Rick said. Sparing an enemy so that she may suffer must resonate with audiences because I remember it being a motif on the show Xena, with Calisto playing the role of Foxy and the Xena the role of Katherine.

  7. I'll admit that it's not easy reading a post on Pam Grier when you've got pictures of Pam Grier because my eyes keep wandering back to Pam Grier. But I did read your post, Rick! I like both COFFY and FOXY BROWN, but I honestly don't prefer one or the other because they seem so alike to me. While technically not a better film, my favorite Pam film is FRIDAY FOSTER because, as Hal said, it showcases a much more playful Pam, who's so angry and vengeance-minded in her more popular movies. In fact, she's quite good in FRIDAY FOSTER: charming and fun and just as sexy as ever. Pam is indeed a whole lotta woman! Thanks for the write-up, Rick, and feel free to focus on more of Pam's movies... which, of course, would require more pictures.

  8. Sark, FRIDAY FOSTER is indeed different from her other starring vehicles. I don't recall liking it as well as FOXY or COFFY, but I haven't seen it in many years (indeed, I just watched FOXY and it was better than I recalled). Many of these movies are on Impact (a cable channel specializing in action movies) this month.

  9. I can't help but enjoy watching Pam take charge of the riff raff. I haven't seen "Friday Foster" but think that would be a fun change for her. Great blog, Rick, and I especially enjoyed the comments!

  10. Rick,
    I love Pam Grier, especially as Foxy Brown. The woman kicks ass!
    Another great post.

    You just handle the justice and I'll handle the revenge myself!-Foxy Brown


  11. Rick: This was a great post. I couldn't choose between "Coffy" or "Foxy Brown" if my life depended on it. If I had to, I would probably give the nod to "Coffy", but I love them both.

    A few years ago at a horror convention in Chicago Sid Haig was one of the guests. I asked him if he had any pics of himself from his Pam Grier co-star days. Alas, he said he did not. I asked him about his cameo as a judge in "Jackie Brown" where he gives Pam Grier a look of such affection (it doesn't have much to do with the scene, as I recall) that I wondered if Quentin Tarentino directed him that way as a gift to the fans. He smiled and said, "Absolutely." He said he loved working with Pam.

    About two years ago Pam Grier was at a Chicago bookstore signing copies of her "Foxy" autobiography and as she was signing my copy I told her I saw Sid Haig and he said how much he liked her. Her face lit up with a huge smile and she said wistfully, "Sid Haig. He's still working. I'd love to work with him again." Apparently the two of them share a great fondness for each other.

  12. Rick,

    No way I can be original here - another great read! But, I buy everything in this film! :-)

    Just pure fun in spite of, or perhaps because of, its outlandishness. All worth it regardless because of Pam Grier. She's great! So memorable for so many reasons. It's no wonder she's a cultural icon. Go Foxy Brown!!

    Thanks for giving these films attention!


    PS - I like "Coffy, Burn." "Burn, Coffy."