Flashback
A look back at this day in film history
May 26
Pam Grier May 26, 1949
Pam Grier born

For someone who would later be crowned the Queen of Blaxploitation, Pam Grier, born in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, began her life in very un-regal circumstances. Her father, a mechanic and Technical Sergeant in the United States Air Force, was forced to drag his family where his job took him, and for many years, the Griers lived in England, where Pam developed a British accent and a liking for 4 o’clock tea. At the age of 14, when Grier’s family returned to the States and finally settled down in Denver, Pam was forced face the tough reality of growing up black in America. She worked hard in school, but found money for college by participating in beauty contests––she got second runner-up in the Colorado state competition for Miss Universe. Grier’s acting career began when she moved to LA and got a job answering phones at low-budget American International Pictures, a position she quickly used to find out about auditions. Initially hired for sexploitation flicks like Beyond the Valley of the Dolls or women-in-prison movies, like Big Doll House, Grier got the chance to redefine African-American roles when Jack Hill cast her in Coffy, a revenge drama about a nurse who decides to fight back after her 11-year-old sister is turned into a drug addict. The $700,000 exploitation film turned a profit of $8.5 million, changing not only Grier’s future but the roles she would play. The next year, Foxy Brown made Grier a cult figure, and for some a model of a independent, self-assertive black woman. She later told Essence magazine, “I make no apologies for the women I created. Actually recreated. When I grew up I knew a certain kind of Black woman who was the sole support of her family and who would, if you disrespected her, beat you into the cement.” It was this same figure that inspired Quentin Tarantino to pay homage to her by casting her as the star of Jackie Brown

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