Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Summer 2010: Sociology

Sociology was from 6-9:30 every Tuesday and Thursday. That gave me 30 minutes drive time and 30 minutes to study. We took 2 test and I got 100% on both. The final was cumulative and again, I didn't track down my grade but I got an A in the class so another score.

Sociology was so intriguing to me as I love different cultures and ways of life. Socioeconomic patterns are really common sense, as was most of what we learned, but the CLASS itself was so engaging. We did an excersise in social mobility that I loved. It basically gave characteristics of people who were born into one socioeconomic level but where able to move up or down the social ladder depending on things they are exposed to in their childhood. Here are a few things that I found interesting for you mama’s out there.

Things that help you to move up the social ladder:

Both parents in the home until age of 18

One or more parents has graduated college

More than 40 books in your home

Going to the art museum or zoo with parent or guardian (not school event)

Travel outside of the US before the age of 18

If one or more of your immediate family members is a Dr, lawyer or executive

If your parents are willing to contribute significantly to your college education

Things that work against you in social mobility:

If you were raised in a rented apartment or house

If you were raised in a single parent home

If one or more persons in your immediate family are in jail or prison

If one or both parents did not graduate high school

I thought they were all interesting things that we don’t necessarily think about. It certainly gave me a lot of insight into my own life and made me think about how I would raise my own family, should I choose to have one. I met some super cool people and it felt like as soon as we got into the groove it was over. I LOVED summer school!

Pamela Suzette Grier

I first came to know Pam Grier in 2004. She portrayed Kit, the headstrong older sister of one of the main characters in the Show Time series The L Word. I was shocked to find out that Pam Grier was not only the first female African American action hero but that she played the iconic roll of Foxy Brown as well. I dressed up as Foxy Brown four years ago for Halloween. I researched the character for her attitude and wardrobe never realizing it was Pam Grier that played her. That is why I chose Pam Grier as my African American actress to research.

Pam was born May 26, 1949 in Winston Salem North Carolina. Her mother was a homemaker as well as a nurse. Her father was an airplane mechanic in the United States Air force. Pam’s military family relocated often with their assignments occasionally taking them overseas. Pam spent many of the first five years of her life in England. At the age of six, Pam was left unattended at a relative’s house and she was raped by two older boys. This was the beginning of the devastating abuse that Pam would suffer in her life. At the age of 16, Pam was date raped. This event caused her to downplay her beautiful looks for years to come.

The Grier family eventually settled in Denver, Colorado where Pam finished high school. The family experienced great racial strain during this time period. She was not popular in school and had a very hard time finding a date to the prom. She was a survivor deep down and she forged ahead. During high school Pam performed in a few stage productions. She eventually entered a Denver beauty contest in the hopes of winning the cash prize and securing enough funds to put her through college. Pam did not win the contest but she did come in second place. There was a Hollywood talent scout at the beauty contest who approached Pam and made an offer for her to come to Hollywood. After finishing college, and at the urging of her mother to seize this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, Pam headed for LA in 1967.

Pam’s idea of her future was a job in the medical field, helping other people. When Pam’s boyfriend at the time was killed in Vietnam she turned to acting as a way to release the grief and frustration that she was feeling over the death of her love. Pam landed a few stage rolls but she was not an instant success. Pam took a job as a receptionist at American International Pictures to pay the bills. It was there that she was discovered by director Jack Hill. Jack had a deep respect for women and the power that he felt that they held within. He was making a series of women’s prison movies and he cast Pam in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970), The Big Doll House (1971), Women in Cages (1971) and The Big Bird Cage (1972). This was the the Blaxploitation era and these violent and sometimes sadistic films put Pam Grier on the map.

In 1973, Pam played the lead character Coffy in a movie of the same name. Pam says today that the character of Coffy came from Pam’s image of her aunt on her mother’s side who was a strong, independent black woman. Coffy is out to avenge the people who got her sister hooked on drugs. She is a badass chick with a gun that does not one time need a man to come and save her. Coffy was one of the few images of a strong black woman for the young girls of that time period. Also in 1973, Pam starred in Scream Blacula Scream which was met with mixed reviews.

In 1974, Pam’s breakthrough roll, and the one she is most known for today was released. She played Foxy Brown, a jive talking African American woman with a gun. Not such a stretch from her other rolls. Foxy is a woman seeking revenge after her government agent boyfriend is gunned down. Foxy experiences being drugged and violently raped in this movie and seeks her revenge in a way that, in today’s times, may have been edited out of the final cut of the film. Pam was portraying strong black women before this country understood that there was such a thing or that they had a place in society. I am amazed that after the sexual abuse that Pam herself experienced, she was able to act out very graphic rape scenes in her movies. Pam had no idea at the time the impact that her performance of Foxy Brown, and others, would have on her life as well as the entire African American community.

In 1975, Pam starred in Sheba Baby, Bucktown and Friday Foster. She did just one movie in 1976 and she began to fall off from there. Pam was losing interest in what she felt was a repeat of the same as kicking female lead. She seriously questioned in her mind at this point if acting was really her passion and she decided to work less. She accepted small rolls in TV and Miniseries. In the 1980’s Pam did a few guest star rolls on The Cosby Show, Miami Vice and Night Court. Pam was not heard from much during this time.

In 1997, Quentin Tarantino, resurrected the career of Pam Grier when he offered her a starring role in his third film, Jackie Brown. Tarantino was a huge fan of Foxy Brown and wanted Pam to play a modern version of her sexy alter ego. Tarantino knew what he was doing when he cast Pam alongside box office powerhouse, Samuel L. Jackson. Pam proved herself to be just as sexy in middle age and she began her comeback to entertainment. After the release of Jackie Brown, Pam was offered many rolls including guest appearances, recurring characters and supporting roles.

During the press tour to promote Jackie Brown, Pam admitted to having been diagnosed with Cervical Cancer in 1988 and being given 18 months to live. Pam credits her Cancer diagnoses for making her see the important things in life and living to the fullest every day. Pam moved to a 100 acre ranch in Colorado where she rescues dogs and horses. She is a private woman who prefers the quiet of the country as opposed to the big city life. Pam seems like the type of woman that anyone could be friends with. She has lived a fascinating life and has given much back to the community.

In one of her most recent rolls, from 2004 to 2009, Pam played the straight bar owning older sister of one of the main lesbian characters on The L Word. Pam’s character, Kit, is a strong, independent black woman who struggles with her mixed race, her role as a woman in society and her sexuality. Pam is a huge supporter of gay rights as well as civil rights so the roll seems to come naturally to her. I read a lot of interviews, movie reviews and eventually went to buy Pam’s book, Foxy: My Life in 3 Acts, as research for this paper. I am now fascinated with Pam Grier and I will probably eventually see every movie she ever made. There are so many parallels between Pam’s character choices and my life. Reading about Pam personally made me see that she accepted those roles for a reason. Most of her characters did mimic her own life in some way.

Pam has been romantically linked over the years to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Comedian Richard Pryor, Freddie Prinze and, most recently, Hempel from 2000-2008. Although she never married, Pam says she still dreams of her prefect wedding. Over the course of her career, Pam has been nominated and awarded many NAACP image awards for numerous rolls. For Jackie Brown alone, she was nominated for 10 awards. Most notably, the SAG Award for Best Actress and the Golden Globe, also for Best Actress. Pam was even nominated for a Daytime Emmy for her part in an animated show Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for every child. Pam has clearly made her place in history as one of the pioneers for African American women, not just in film but also in real life. Pam had to have known that the movies that she did were racy for the time period. She had to understand that they would be met with resistance. She accepted those rolls anyway. She accepted them, she researched them and she performed them with gusto. Pam Grier is looked back on today as a living icon and a legend, as she should be.

Summer 2010: Blacks in the History of Cinema

My Monday night class was Blacks in the History of Cinema from 5:30-8. We only met 5 times over a 6 week period (4th of July we were off) so there was a lot to cram in. There could not have been a more perfect class to take the same semester as Sociology. I learned so much about Black History from this class. I had to watch an old black musical so I chose Carmen Jones, starring Dorothy Dandridge. I had never seen her work and I can see now why they called her the black Marilyn Monroe. She was hot and super risqué for her time. We also watched Birth of a Nation, which was one of the first films ever. Black people were portrayed by white men in black face, even the traditional Mamie roles.

I had to watch a film from the Blaxploitation Era, which was basically when black people started to stand up and make films about defying the white man. I chose the first Blaxploitation film, Sweet Sweet Back’s Baad Assss Song. It was the first motion picture where a soundtrack was used to promote the film. This was another genius invention that the black community gets no credit for. Sweet Back is basically a porno, written, directed and starring Marvin Van Peebles (father of Mario, who has a short and disturbing cameo). The film was silently financed by Bill Cosby and Sidney Poitier. Van Peebles actually contracted Gonorrhea during filming because they did not simulate sex but actually shot live and very real sex scenes. Van Peebles sued the Motion Picture Association and workman’s comp for his STD and won enough money to finance another movie.

I had to choose a Sidney Poitier film to review. I chose To Sir with Love. Poitier plays a recently graduated engineer major who wants to teach. When he can’t find a job in his field of study, he takes a job at an England high school for troubled white teens. This film was the introduction of the singer Lulu, who sings the hit To Sir with Love. Portier plays an excellent role of overcoming the adversity of the troubled children as well as race barriers that still exist. The film was made in the 1950’s and while it seems a bit slow at first, the story line is quality.

I loved the black history of this class. I was the only white person which only bothered me the first day because someone was rather prejudice. I got over that and the rest of the class was great. I was the only person who had ever read Roots in the class. When they started bashing Sidney Poitier for not “representing” the black community I felt the need to defend him. I read The Portrait of a Man, Poitier’s autobiography and his story is amazing. He is from a Bahamian island where he grew up with no running water or electricity. He barely spoke the language when he came to the US. He did not experience racial prejudice or stereotyping as a child so he did not understand the anger at the white man. He also did not understand, until years later, why so many people thought he could have and should have done more. By the end of class, my opinion was very respected by my peers and that made me feel awesome.

Our final was to write a 5 page paper on a black actor, actress or film maker. I chose Pam Grier, aka Foxy Brown. I knew Pam as the older, straight sister of Bette, from the L Word. Even though I dressed as Foxy Brown for Halloween one year, I had no idea that Pam Grier played the iconic role. She was the first black female in an action movie. In the 1970’s she made more than 10 bad ass black chick films. Her story is amazing and she is and is a truly iconic figure that goes pretty unrecognized.

I got a 100% on all of my reviews and papers. We didn't get our final project grade back but I got an A in the class so I am happy. I will post my Pam Grier paper for your viewing pleasure. Oh, and me dressed as Foxy Brown below...