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The Education of Pam Grier

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Pam Grier, cover girl, May 19, 1975.  

Meeting Pam Grier back in 1975, you’d be happy to survive the encounter. She said then, “Right now I’m setting up my own production company. I know I can do it. I read the trades, I know I’m big.” She had plans to produce, to self-finance, to become the first black female to direct a major film. If that didn’t pan out, who could blame her? She was simply young, black, and beautiful, a lovely form on which to drape the flag of cultural change.

Talking to her now, she’s the one who sounds like a survivor. “As a woman of color, you’re not going to be the leading lady,” she says. “Is that going to depress me and make me drink and feel horrible about myself? I can’t let that happen to me.” She may have played a part in opening the way for Halle Berry and Beyoncé—but don’t forget, she’s still around, too. “How do you survive and have a career for 35 years? There are people who aren’t as old as my career,” she says. And the onetime Foxy Brown has learned some lessons. “The one thing you don’t do is that you don’t go out there and preach and upset people and make them feel uncomfortable,” she says. “It’s like in martial arts—you don’t keep hitting your head on the wall trying to move it. You don’t keep getting angry, saying, ‘You don’t accept blacks, you don’t do this, you don’t do that, you don’t have black television shows’—you know, I leave that to Al Sharpton.”

So instead, she lives in Colorado. She mucks stables and fly-fishes in hip-waders. She thinks about bin Laden. “Oh, we know where he is,” she says. “He’s in a cave! So we’ve got to pretend we’re leaving. Then bin Laden will come out, and if you want to nail him, now you can.” She’s writing a book about her life. And if Hollywood needs her, it knows where to find her. “I’m only a plane ride away,” she says. “People said, ‘Out of sight, out of mind, you’ll never work again.’ But I thought, I can live out here and be happy. I don’t have to live out there and be rejected all day long."


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