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Pam Grier, Still Kicking Butt

Legendary blaxploitation actress tackles life's challenges.

Q: Was it cathartic to blow away ruthless pimps and corrupt cops on screen?

A: No, not really because it was just fantasy. But still the movies resonated with people in the community. There were cultural, psychological and political elements to what I was doing and I had a lot of support. Conservative men, however, didn't want me to shoot a gun or take charge. They had issues with me being a strong alpha woman. They wanted women to be feminine; you know, "Let the man do it." I said, "Well, if the man isn't there, a woman can stand up for herself." That's how I was brought up.

My mom was the model for Coffy, and my aunt was Foxy Brown. In my neighborhood, women would take a skillet and beat the you-know-what out of you if you tried to take their purse. They weren't going to stand there and scream, "Oh my god! He took my purse!" It was more like, "Oh my god! He tried to take my purse and there he is, down on the ground in a heap. You don't take my last $3 when I have five kids to feed!"

Q: You've been a model for self-asserting women for so long that readers of your memoir were shocked to learn of the terrible things that happened to you, how you were raped by two boys when you were only 6, taunted at school and subjected to racism on a regular basis. Even people close to you hadn't known some of the things you revealed in the book. How did they react when they read about it?

A: Many have been reaching out, sending letters and notes. My mom told me just yesterday that people are coming to her saying, "We didn't know those things had happened to Pammy." Many of the women who read Foxy couldn't handle the first rape in the book, and then a second and then the attempted third! The third was the scariest. Even though nothing happened, it was a fight. It was a physical battle, where I was afraid that I could be killed.

I'm very candid in the memoir, and what's interesting is that many men are buying the book and coming to the signings and revealing their circumstances of abuse. In every city there's at least one. I've also heard from men who say, "I wanted to read your memoir because I have a daughter and I want to make sure she doesn't suffer like you did." To have that, if it's just one or a thousand, it would make my life worth living, make every moment I survived worth it.

Q: You also write about being diagnosed in 1988 with cancer, which is in remission now. What got you through that difficult period?

A: Bill Moyers.

Q: Bill Moyers?

A: I saw this documentary Healing and the Mind With Bill Moyers, and it saved my life. I was at my rented house in the Valley [San Fernando Valley] one night, contemplating what my process was going to be, when it came on PBS. Moyers was visiting shamans and witch doctors and practitioners of wellness all over the world. One episode was in China, where this woman had a malignant tumor on her back, which flattens out after weeks of therapy with acupuncture and pressure and herbs and meditation. The cancer was gone and that was my sign. Literally, that night I said I would seek Eastern medicine.

I know where every Chinatown in every city is in this country. So I know where I can get herb teas and dong guai and all kinds of other roots and things I'm supposed to have as a woman to balance my chi. All I know is I followed the spiritual advice I got, and I feel much better today.

Q: Did having cancer change you?

A: It taught me a lot. It taught about how close I came to death, and how far I can go in life. When I go to the herb shops I see women in their 80s and 90s who look fantastic. Their skin is smooth. A lot of women think that after menopause you won't care about being sexually intimate with a man. I don't know if that's true or not, but I know for many women, including myself, we don't know we had it. All we know is, we good to go!

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Your Scoop on Cinema

Movies for Grownups is focused on films with distinct relevance to a 50-plus audience. In reviews, previews and interviews, we look for actors and themes that speak to the experiences of older moviegoers. Find more about us on:


100 Must-See Movies for Grownups

100 Must-See Movies for Grownups

By Bill Newcott
January 2015

A treasure trove of delightfully offbeat recommendations for discerning moviegoers, from the beginnings of film right up the present.

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