I Got A Black Belt In Barstoolin': Foxy Brown (1974)

I would have been quite foolish to have gone the entire month without including a film from the blaxploitation explosion which occurred in American film during the 1970's, particularly, since the genre is full of some rather intriguing and unusual depictions of women, in some cases quite problematic, however, on occasion the women who possess spaces in these films did so with such a degree of authority and strength that they would become symbols of power and pride for women, particularly those of color, for decades to follow, and even be remade in loving homage by Quentin Tarantino.  At least this is the case for Jack Hill's 1974 blaxploitation classic Foxy Brown, which is a funky, fresh and absolutely thrilling look at the effect on drugs and urban black populations in the seventies.  Of course, sticking it to the man and promoting a drug-free culture within the African-American community was nothing new to blaxploitation films thematically and the idea was certainly not uncommon within the political debates occurring in urban communities during the era, however, one cannot ignore the masterful and, admittedly, awesome ways in which this rather run of the mill story unfolds in the world of Foxy Brown.  Like many of the era's classics, it is rife with some terrible acting and some of the most haphazard editing techniques ever comitted to film, which have come to signify some of the more negative elements of the genre, yet, it is also a film with an excellent soundtrack, some fun over-the-top fighting scenes and enough interracial relationships to make CPAC and the American Family Association go up in arms.  These are, obviously, the things that have made these low-budget urban flicks last and remain cinematically relevant.  Foxy Brown is an exception to its counterparts, with its strong and sensual female lead who is unarguably victim to the male gaze and cinematic objectification, yet her existence and abrasive confrontational attitude stand to confront this objectification head on, making Foxy Brown a girl of revolutionary means both cinematically, socially and historically all at once.

Foxy Brown, surprisingly enough, does indeed focus on a woman named Foxy Brown (Pam Grier) a black woman who seems to have it hard enough navigating the unwelcoming world around her, especially after her boyfriend became a victim of assault for working undercover to bust drug trafficking.  Even when he returns to society, it is as a new man, undergoing plastic surgery to change his alias.  Things seem to be great between Foxy and the new version of her boyfriend, yet her wily brother Link (Antonio Fargas) finds himself tied deeply into drugs himself both as a user and a dealer and quickly becomes financially indebted to the wrong people.  Realizing that Foxy's new lover is indeed the old narcotics officer, he rats him out for his own safety, leading to his murder.  This illogical murder and death of her lover, which has now essentially occurred twice, leads Foxy into a decided mode of revenge, in which, she seeks out all those involved in the wicked trade beginning with the lowly henchmen and working her way up to the druglords.  Along the way she meets an group of terrible, mostly white, people who find her foolish attempts, at the most humorous, always standing in her way, whether it be the simultaneously suave and gross Steve Elias (Peter Brown) who takes a sexual interest in Foxy, yet cannot remove himself from his oppressive state as a higher up in the drug trafficking.  Foxy also comes into contact, multiple times, with a woman named Katherine Wall (Kathryn Loder) who sees Foxy not only as a threat to the success of her brothel/drug ring, but her own power at a sexual figure as well.  After making quick work of everyone from the drug pushers to high-end politicians, Foxy finds herself at the point in which she must destroy the drug distributors at the root, and she recruits the help of her local Neighborhood Justice Comittee to end the terrible engagements.  This, of course, involves a ton of guns and shootouts, but Foxy eventually obtains what she wants, both justice for the wrongs exacted by drug dealers, as well as revenge for the people who were directly involved in the murder of her lover.  Despite being sexually objectified, beaten and forced to take heroin, Foxy moves from the situation a bigger and more threatening, not to mention enlightened woman.

So many a critics, particularly with a feminist lens in mind, have dismissed this film, and many other of the era for their heavy use of nudity and the naked female form, for what seem to be inexplicable moments.  I get this reading, trust me it is a film far from being void of problems, however, where I want to draw the line with a film like this is its distinct use of metaphor and message.  The body of Foxy is exploited and objectified, not for the sake of male gaze in a cinematic sense, but as a very real call to attention of these issues occurring on a large scale, especially within the urban community.  The film rejects the notion of black women as being highly-sexualized, in fact, Foxy inverts this notion and uses the bigotry to her advantage, playing up on this assumed sexuality to get a politician caught in a controversial act.  Similarly, the idea that the black woman is to reside in the back ground to the black male political cause is also rejected within the film, it is Foxy who saves her brother, and while she does require the help of a group of black men to, ultimately, take down the drug dealers, it is her image of empowered black woman that ends the film, leaving no question as to where she stands in relationship to the rest of her community.  However, what I think puts many theorists up in arms, is a scene depicting Foxy fighting a group of white, lesbian women in a dive bar.  They find her presence problematic and not entirely welcome, and one might anachronistically read this as a division of women, yet, one must remember that the film was released in 1974, at this point in time the National Organization for Women was still predominantly white women, and only two years earlier when Shirley Chisholm ran for president, NOW back a white male, to avoid the fears of losing in supporting a black woman.  It is a film of layers, to read into the nudity is a necessary one, without question, however, it extends to something much larger and more revolutionary.  Foxy is a woman, one of color and she fights against the man, which evolves far beyond the simple assumptions of rich white male wealth, essentially, this is a key moment in analyzing intersectionality, far before it became socially and theoretically acceptable to do so.

Key Scene:  The bar scene is everything one could want from a blaxploitation film in all its cheesy, yet awesome glory.

This film is super cheap, I do not foresee a bluray version coming out anytime soon, therefore, a DVD copy will suffice.

No comments:

Post a Comment