'Foxy' action queen Pam Grier empowered by grandfather
To her loyal fans, Pam Grier will always be Hollywood's first female action star -- and the first African-American to fill those heroic shoes.
But at 62, the ground-breaking actress now finds deeper meaning to the fame that found her thanks to career-defining roles in '70s films such as "Foxy Brown" and "Coffy."
"When I look back, I think those films and the others that followed said more about my spirit than my ability to kick the heck out of bad guys," Grier said in Toronto on Thursday to CTVNews.ca.
"I'm a child of the Women's Movement. I always believed that I could do anything. That women didn't have to be limited in any way," Grier said in Toronto on Thursday to CTVNews.ca.
Grier owes that fighting spirit, ironically, to two men: Plato and her grandfather.
"Plato once said that woman should be able to rule and be leaders. That was one of my mantras growing up as a little girl -- that, and listening to my grandfather," said Grier.
"My grandfather was always telling me ‘If the boys could hunt, I could. If the boys could fish, I could.' He planted the spirit of empowerment in me. He was the first feminist I knew."
That fighting spirit is also what Grier would like audiences to remember when she appears at Toronto's Varsity cinema at 7 p.m. on Thursday evening. In celebration of Black History Month, the Canadian Film Centre (CFC) and the TD Bank Group will present director Clement Virgo in conversation with the iconic actress.
"I don't know what people will ask me. But I know this. If I can make just one person believe that they can rise above the obstacles in their lives and fulfill their dreams, I'm good with that. We all need a purpose in life. I believe that is mine," said Grier.
Like most maturing actresses, Grier's career had ups and downs over the years.
Grier's career saw a huge revival in 1997, when she starred in Quentin Tarantino's film "Jackie Brown."
Her plucky turn as a flight attendant who smuggles money from Mexico earned critics' praises and numerous nominations, including a Screen Actors Guild nomination for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role.
Since then, Grier has turned in other memorable performances as Kit Porter in Showtime's "The L Word" and the Tom Hank's comedy "Larry Crowne."
Grier will appear next in the crime drama "Mafia" and The Man with the Iron Fists," the forthcoming martial-arts extravaganza directed by RZA, the Wu-Tang Clan rapper turned filmmaker.
"The film industry is a business. Bottom line, they want to make money," Grier said on CTV's Canada AM on Thursday.
The question for African-Americans, according to Grier, is simple: "How do we project our history and our image and make money," she said.
Films like "The Help," which received four Oscar nominations in January, and won the Screen Actors Guild prize for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture, get kudos from Grier.
"My mom and friends of her generation had a tough time watching that movie because they served people," Grier said.
"But what resonates most about that film is empowerment," she said.
"I can't say it enough. When we do all that we can to empower ourselves, whether through wonderful movies like this or our own actions, we make this world a better place."