You’ve seen the fabulous Pam Grier in many movies where she plays the independent woman with a cause who handles her business, gets the bad guys and then walks off into the sunset by herself. From 1974’s “Foxy Brown” to 1997’s “Jackie Brown,” that’s been the iconic actress’ M.O.
Well, Grier is much like that in real life. After a career decline during the ebb of the that era, Grier began to carve out a new niche for herself, a return made complete by fan Quentin Tarantino, who wrote “Jackie Brown” with her in mind.
After a five-year stint on the controversial Showtime series “The L Word,” Grier appears in the Common/Queen Latifah movie, “Just Wright,” opening May 14, and has also just been cast in an upcoming film with Juila Roberts and Tom Hanks.
Grier’s new book, “Foxy,” details her personal life as an actress involved with some of the most famous men of the era, but doesn’t say much about her sexy image or her celebrity. She lives in a modest home on a ranch in Colorado and would rather ride horses, make movies and enjoy life than rest on her laurels. We talked to her recently about her life and career.
BlackAmericaWeb.com: I have to confess I’ve been representing you for years, and the best compliment I’ve ever gotten is that I have an aura similar to yours. I can’t take credit for any resemblance to you, but maybe we favor in height, stature and complexion. (Note to readers: This is not MY vanity, it’s what has been said to me several times over the years. Just wanted to make that clear.)
PAM GRIER: I think we resemble and favor each other because I get my womanhood and my femininity and my spark from other women. I think our beauty comes from our confidence – Our confidence in our beauty and what we wear and what we drink and how we want to self-improve. I think that’s how we resemble. (Thanks, Pam.)
The book could have been twice as long – there were so many more questions it left unanswered! But one of them is that, despite your status as a sex symbol, it doesn’t seem like you really cared much about that aspect of your life.
I believe that your sexuality is not who you are. I don’t define myself by my age or by my sexuality. I define myself by my energy. I think there’s so much to life, we don’t have time to say, ‘Okay, I’m going here; should I look sexy?’ Your sexuality, your sexiness is not a lifestyle. It’s not a thought process for me. You become a beacon of sexuality because of who you are. And again, I reiterate, confidence. So as far as putting [sexuality] forth, that’s not who I am.
So as far as your career and how people perceived you, what kind of impact did that have on you? In the book, it really seems as though you weren’t thinking about that at all.
You’re absolutely right. I was not. (Laughs.) I let everyone else think about it. Let everyone else sweat. (Laughs.) That’s not what I think about. I think about reading books and social issues and our country and I think about many, many other things.
You do talk about your relationships in the book. Were you reticent at all about talking about some of your celebrity relationships since some of them have died? …..
….. Did you hold back at all on your experiences of those relationships?
No. I was quite forthcoming. Right now, we’re in the realm of understanding Islam. We’ve been in a war with [Iraq] now for almost a decade. (In the book, Grier details her reluctance to continue a relationship with first love Kareem Abdul-Jabbar once he converted to Islam.) I think if our country understood other cultures more, we wouldn’t be so in conflict. It was timely to talk about my experience with Islam and the man that I’d fallen in love with who was a Catholic and was converting. [Kareem] was one of my great loves, my first love, and it was about how would I embrace it as a woman … in the time of the woman’s movement. Sometimes you love someone, but how do you continue loving him? We are friends today.
Pam, what were you doing to these guys? After they dated you – in the case of Kareem, Richard Pryor and Freddie Prinze – there were not more black women in their lives.
(Pause.) Well, I don’t know what I did! (Laughs) All I know is that I had to be true to myself. I don’t think they were looking at race issues. With all of them, I had been friends after the relationship, which is great to have because they respected me for myself, and I respected them as well. It’s great to be able to be friends with someone who was so important in your life, and you really loved them, and nothing horrible really happened that seperated you. You were maintaining your self-respect; it just wasn’t compatible. I have to live my life and not under someone else’s life. That’s part of the women’s movement and becoming independent and standing up on your feet and not being validated by marrying a man.
Your book was very much a validation of women who have made those kind of life choices. I think there are a lot of women out there who could appreciate that. It was empowering because you don’t always get that perspective.
No, you don’t. We’re not a generalized nation. We’re in pockets of various religions and social statements and stigmas and women who are still oppressed. We still have those issues. Women still make 57 cents on the dollar of a man with equal education. We come from a society where a major toy company made a Game Boy but not a Game Girl.
That bothers me. And I guess that doesn’t bother women because the tradition is not to look at that as an issue, but it really is an issue.
You talk a lot about your family in the book and the experiences that you had, and you did seem like the woman in your family who really forged her own path in life. What do you think led you to do different things than, say, your mom or your grandmother?
The women’s movement. Other women making gains, such as Shirley Chisholm, Gloria Steinem, Barbara Jordan. Women politicians and legislators who wrote laws and were opening doors and the history of women who made gains with so little. They couldn’t drive, they couldn’t vote, they couldn’t get an education, and they were still saying get an education. Have something to fall back on. You’ll be validated; you can be the best woman you can be. It was that movement, and it started when I was a little girl watching my mom and her mother and the struggle just to gain equality.