Bad, Bodacious, & Black! COFFY, FOXY BROWN, and the Enduring Legacy Of Pam Grier

At long last, Coffy and Foxy Brown finally arrive on Blu-ray courtesy of Olive Films.

This is a great time to be a fan of black 70s films, with Blu-ray editions finally making their way into collectors’ hands. Within the last year, we’ve been spoiled by releases of Across 110th St, Cotton Comes To Harlem, Brotherhood Of Death, and both Blacula pictures. Two of my other favorites, Truck Turner and Sugar Hill, are announced and on their way. Olive Films has dipped their feet into MGM’s Soul Cinema catalog with Amazing Grace and Cooley High, but now deliver the crown jewels of the genre, Coffy and Foxy Brown, arriving alongside another Pam Grier starrer, Friday Foster, and Fred “The Hammer” Williamson vehicle, well, Hammer.

Pam Grier cut her teeth on small roles in early blaxploitation films like Hit Man and Cool Breeze, and slightly larger roles in a handful of salacious “women in prison” films. Of these, two (The Big Doll House and The Big Bird Cage) were directed by Jack Hill, who no doubt found in Grier the makings of a star. When they teamed up again, it would be to create what would become the defining films of both of their careers.

In my review of Hammer, I (clumsily) attempted to explain why blaxploitation is such a critical component of our cultural landscape. Everything I said goes double for Pam, because she does everything the boys do, but better, and in high heels and a dress. The poster for Coffy claims “She’s the Godmother of them all”, and that promise turned out to be true in ways that nobody could have imagined. Not only is Pam the undisputed queen of blaxploitation films, but quite probably the first (and in this reviewer’s opinion, greatest) female American action star, smashing both color and gender barriers. Even her characters’ names, which also serve as the films’ titles, leave no room for misinterpretation — these women are hip, black, and piping hot.

Look, it’s no accident that Pam Grier inspired some of the greatest filmmakers of the next generation, and I don’t just mean in African American culture. Directors like John Carpenter, Tim Burton, and Quentin Tarantino have all found excuses to cast her in their films. With a keen wit, badass swagger, saucy tone, and killer curves, she’s the full package. To know Pam is to adore her.

COFFY (1973)

A woman points a shotgun and calmly announces, “This is the end of your rotten life, you motherfuckin’ dope pusher!”

Without giving any time for a response, the trigger is pulled and the shocked man’s head explodes right off his body.

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s my genuine pleasure to present to you: Coffy.

After her kid sister gets strung out on drugs, Coffy decides to put a stop to the local drug trade — by killing every last jive sucker in it. A nurse by trade, her calling is saving lives — and she’s not above taking a few to make that happen. Posing as a high class hooker, she infiltrates the criminal element to enact judgment upon those responsible for pushing drugs to kids.

Along the way she fakes a Jamaican accent (poorly, but it still works), lures a hilariously cartoonish pimp (although it’s hard to not feel a bit sorry for him, as he gets dragged behind a car later), and gets into the mother of all catfights in a huge brawl against said pimp’s harem of dope-dealing hookers. She tangles with tons of bad guys including crooked cops, a sinister looking fellow with an eyepatch, and a sadistic heavy played by fan favorite and Jack Hill regular Sid Haig, all the way up to the bosses at the top of the organization.

Relentlessly violent and uncompromisingly sexy, Coffy was unlike anything that had ever come before, and to this day retains the undeniable ability to shock and entertain.


Coffy and Foxy Brown are two sides of the same coin, two different films with much the same voice. It’s not difficult to understand why; Foxy Brown was initially developed as a sequel but the decision was made to spin it into a new IP. Either way, the films are so astonishingly similar and equally entertaining, that even fervent fans sometimes get them mixed up.

The decision to skip a sequel and create a new character yielded at least one benefit: some cast members return in different roles, most notably Sid Haig.

While the plots are essentially identical (angry vigilante woman poses as a prostitute to infiltrate the drug trade, gets caught, and still murders ALL THE BAD GUYS), the wild adventures that accompany that path are not. The violent action, funky style, raw naughtyness, colorful characters, and slightly different tone make each film a different pleasure to treasure. Foxy Brown is a bit less brutal than its predecessor, and more self-aware.

The cause of Foxy Brown’s woes is her deadhead junkie/pusher brother, excellently portrayed with smarm to spare by Antonio Fargas, one of the most prolific supporting characters of the genre. Foxy’s man happens to be an undercover narc trying to take down the druglords, and her worthless brother rats him to the bad guys, getting him killed. You know what happens next.

Once again, Pam goes on a ROARING RAMPAGE OF REVENGE, and it’s an absolute blast.

As noted earlier, the film’s trajectory is basically the same as Coffy, but with different “stuff” along the way. Foxy lets her hair down (literally, trading in her afro), publicly outs a corrupt judge, tangles with a pair of rapey rednecks, teams up with a band of militants, and takes down the bad guys; shotgun-blasting, castrating, and propeller-chopping them along the way.

Foxy Brown is a fine follow-up to Coffy, and it speaks well for both films that fans don’t seem to agree on which is the superior experience.

There’s a cognitive dissonance (or maybe a lack of it?) to these films that’s probably even more apparent now than in the 70s. Coffy and Foxy are empowered black women, full of boldness, strength, and independence. The very dawning of the age of female action stars. But these are exploitation films, after all. Jack Hill wanted to have his cake and eat it, too, and for the most part succeeds. Due to the shared plots which involve posing as a hooker, most of the women depicted in these films are prostitutes, and these pictures are not shy about female nudity. The gratuitous tone is elevated to an almost inconceivable degree during Coffy’s hooker brawl, in which no less than four women are exposed during the melee.

Even Pam bares for the camera, although arguably for plot purposes — she uses sex as a weapon. In fact, I noticed something which, if intentional, is pretty amazing. In scenes in which Pam legitimately makes love, nudity is absent or obscured, as if to present a more wholesome act. It’s only when she’s tricking bad guys that her naughty bits are shown, assaulting the audience (albeit very pleasantly). Interestingly, there is one character whom she loves but he later turns out to be a rotten betrayer — in this case, the nudity is obscured, but then revealed in the scene following the love act.

Perhaps there’s a bit of hypocrisy in propping up Coffy and Foxy as feminist symbols, but also giving the male members of the audience ample opportunity to ogle at Pam’s curvaceous form; just as it would be hypocritical of me to pretend it’s not a big part of the reason I fell in love with her in the first place. I think that Hill and company were aware of this; as Foxy Brown turns down the dial on the sexuality, and even takes the time to establish a hooker character as a victim rather than a villain. Foxy and a friend get even into a brawl at what appears to be a lesbian bar, which would be the perfect setting for another round of exploding blouses, yet all the combatants’ shirts manage to not fly open this time.

The point I’m making is that the antiquated 70s sexual politics of these films might turn some folks off. I hope modern audiences won’t be too judgmental of them, because besides being tremendously entertaining, when it comes down to it I think these films ultimately did a lot more good than bad by providing an avatar for female power.

The Package

At long last, Coffy and Foxy Brown finally arrive on domestic Blu-ray in gorgeous albeit bare bones editions from Olive Films.

I’m not kidding about the agonizing wait for these Blu-rays. The Soul Cinema editions were beset with a problem that plagued many early DVD releases that preceded the transition in TV formats — the widescreen images were matted onto a 4:3 frame.

Special Features and Extras


I usually give Olive Films a pass when it comes to special features; due to the age and obscurity of many of their picks we should feel lucky to get them at all. But for Pam? These sting a bit, especially considering that both films are available in the UK in stellar feature-packed editions. Man, oh man, do I wish they had received similarly royal treatment at home.

Despite my disappointment with the dearth of special features on these discs, there’s no way that I’d not recommend these two blazingly original and exciting films that I absolutely adore, finally available in a correct widescreen presentation. If you have region free capabilities, the Arrow Films releases are the superior product, but if not don’t hesitate to grab these instead. Coffy and Foxy Brown are two of the genre’s absolute finest.

A/V Out.

Get ’em at Amazon:
Coffy —[Blu-Ray] | [DVD] | [Instant]
Foxy Brown —[Blu-Ray] | [DVD] | [Instant]

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