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So, I'm currently reading the book Rock Me on the Water: 1974-The Year Los Angeles Transformed Movies, Music, Television, and Politics by journalist Ronald Brownstein. I'll report on the book later this week, but I was intrigued by this paragraph in the midst of a discussion of "blaxploitation" movies made in the early 1970s (footnote elided):

In all these ways, the blaxploitation era created opportunities for Black artists and technicians that remained largely closed to them on television, but the films ignited a two-front war. From the outside, they faced condemnation from civil rights groups, who understandably accused them of projecting a distorted and demeaning view of Black life. Black protesters picketed showings of films such as Super Fly, waving signs that insisted "We Are Not All Pimps and Whores!" The movies defenders countered that the films also constituted a form of Black empowerment. The typical blaxploitation plot showed a confident, dynamic African American star ([Richard] Roundtree's Shaft or Pam Grier's Coffy and Foxy Brown) conquering a complex and dangerous urban landscape while attracting Black and white lovers alike. To the extent that white society touched Black life at all, it was in the form of corrupt cops and politicians and sadistic mobsters, who make the big money while dribbling crumbs to the Black pimps and drug dealers. When Pam Grier's heroic nurse, Coffy, outwits and kills a bigoted white drug kingpin, after first dispatching the corrupt white cops on his payroll, she portrays a form of black empowerment and retribution in the face of racism that Hollywood had rarely shown on-screen. Still, the case for blaxploitation films like Coffy as a form of social subversion was diminished by the fact that Grier also spent much of the movie with her top off and a good deal of her time tearing the tops from other prostitutes working for a "Super Fly"-like Black pimp and pusher who struts through the movie in a gold jumpsuit (until he's brutally murdered by the white kingpin).

Hm. Intriguing! And this is 2023 after all. I went to the trusty Roku and found Coffy offered on a number of streaming services, notably the free-with-ads Pluto. (Which turned out to be free with the same three ads over and over again, but what are you going to do?)

One correction to Brownstein's synopsis: Grier's character does not spend a "good deal of her time tearing the tops from other prostitutes". "Other" implies that Coffy's a prostitute too; she's not, she's posing as a prostitute to infiltrate the pimp-pusher's organization. And that top-tearing thing is just one (epic) fight scene where Coffy runs afoul of the actual hookers and needs to defend herself. And those tops are pretty flimsy anyway.

All in all, a very guilty pleasure. An intricate plot, lots of imaginative violent action. But also mediocre acting (sorry, Pam!). And a painfully awful soundtrack. (Opinions on that differ, but I'm right.)

Question about that first scene: where was she hiding that shotgun?

Observation about that final scene: she wasn't going to shoot that guy until it turned out he was cheating on her with a white girl.

And, yes, the Brownstein book capitalizes "Black" and keeps "white" lowercase, all the way through. That follows the AP recommendation, see their lame justification here.

Last Modified 2024-01-13 5:03 AM EDT