My current generation knows blaxploitation movement purely as inspiration for works of Quentin Tarantino or for sketch comedies where black people strut around in crazy pimp like outfits. This is mainly because blaxploitation was a movement and a genre unique to its time. Given the swirl of circumstances that made what many consider the first blaxploitation movie popular, Sweet Sweetback’s Baaadassss Song, is not present today. The black community and most certainly the mostly white community that controls the purse strings of Hollywood don’t want to see the kicking ass women, over the top pimps or general laissez-faire sexual proclivities that populate this genre. Instead they want to see Tyler Perry make assumptions that his audience is dumb and therefore can’t tell that he recycled the same storyline from a movie he made last year. (Don’t get me wrong, white people have their fair share of insanely stupid movies, Grown Ups anyone?) I argue that the black community that has not grown up with blaxploitation as their source of entertainment are worse off for role models then they were in the late sixties right when this movement started. If one were to rectify this situation by building a more blaxploitation community, then one must educate yourself in order to see how this genre and movement became so popular. Foxy Brown is probably the best film to start with.
Foxy Brown is just a groovy young cat waiting for her man to get out reconstructive surgery so he can hide from the criminals he was working for as an undercover cop. But she has a brother. And oh how brothers can mess things up, man. This brother learns that Foxy’s boyfriend was the man who ratted out his dealer who is also his employer that he had just gotten into some shit with. So his brother turns rat for the bad guys in order to get back into their good graces. The hit men then come looking for this boyfriend and kill him. Foxy watches everything go down and knows right away who betrayed her. She must now infiltrate this den of criminals (played awesomely by a group of all white people who have a woman for a boss…. go feminism!) by becoming a prostitute and kicking a bunch of ass to take down what her cop boyfriend failed to do legally. There is a lot of bearing of breasts, snorting of fake coke, kicking ass and calling for a sawed off shotgun (my favorite shotgun!) all to culminate in some castration.
I have one reason why this film works on a level that is above camp: Pam Grier. She takes an outrageous scenario and plays it straight. There is no winking at the camera as she takes off her top for the third time in the film, no posturing as she wields her dainty pistol and no playing the victim in any scene. Foxy uses her brains as much as she uses her body to get what she wants. She is resourceful and powerful. Her charisma oozes on the screen.
This film is the perfect introduction to blaxploitation because it features all of the tropes of the genre without it being a slog. You see some action, some sweet lines delivered (including “I’ve got my black belt in bar stools” and “You pink ass corrupt honky judge, take your little wet noodle outta here and if you see a man anywhere send him in because I do need a MAN!”) and some sexiness. But these things are tempered by the ideas put forth about the current state of the black community (see Link’s speech at the beginning), feminist ideals (Foxy doesn’t need a man at all to do anything for her and all of the men featured here are either sadists or incompetent), and the nature of human needs. In other words you can watch this film and enjoy it for the surface events as equally as you can mull over the overt themes for days to come.