Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Acting Black Blogathon


To commemorate Black History Month, Wendell over at Dell on Movies is hosting a blogathon focusing on, well, black actors. Admittedly, my field in that regard is rather slim but I knew which performance I wanted to cover. Which one, you ask?

Pam Grier in Jackie Brown (1997, dir. Quentin Tarantino)

Starting off with a little bit of trivia. Tarantino wanted nobody but Grier in the lead role. (She had previously read for Pulp Fiction but that role went to Rosanna Arquette.) He changed a few aspects of the character from source novel Elmore Leonard's Rum Punch (the lead character is a white woman named Jackie Burke) as both an accommodation for Grier and as a homage to her roles in blaxploitation films back in the seventies.


Now Tarantino doesn't exactly have a great track record with female characters with perhaps the exceptions of Shosanna Dreyfus in Inglourious Basterds and Daisy Domergue in The Hateful Eight. (Mind you, I haven't seen the Kill Bill movies yet.) It's certainly telling that the best female character of his eight films is from his only non-original work. (Hopefully, he'll rectify this in future films.)


But back to Grier. By the time Jackie Brown rolled around, her career wasn't exactly in high demand as it was back in the seventies. And of course when actresses reached that certain age, their choice of roles gets reduced to either a divorcee, a mother or a divorced mother. Thankfully, Tarantino did the same thing with Grier as he did with John Travolta with Pulp Fiction; he gave her career a needed boost.


Grier's work in Jackie Brown also proves that nearly twenty years later, Hollywood has no excuse not to hire actresses of color in lead roles. Hey, if Tarantino (whose films occasionally veer into racist territory, what with their liberal use of the n-word) can take a character originally designed as white and write it specifically for a black actress, I fail to see why other writers and directors can't do the same. (For fuck's sake, it’s 2016. This still shouldn't be an argument.)

10 comments:

  1. I love that Tarantino changed aspects of this character to make it fit a black actress...and not the other way around! And what a performance...so rich...so layered...so iconic. Brilliant post.

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  2. Since I have a lifelong crush on Pam Grier. I really appreciate this post. It's a great movie, too. I knew that QT only wanted her for this part, but did not know she read for Pulp Fiction. Having her in the Arquette role would certainly have put a different spin on things. I guess it worked out for the best as both are awesome films. Thanks a bunch for doing this!

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  3. She should've gotten the Oscar (was she nominated?) instead of the very bland Helen Hunt.

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    1. Nope. Didn't even get nominated. (As if AMPAS doesn't have enough faults to its name...)

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  4. This was the first Pam Grier movie I've seen and absolutely loved her and the film. Great post!

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  5. Jackie Brown is still the only Tarantino movie I need to see. I'm looking forward to actually viewing it some day. Great post!

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