More Than 40 Years After 'Foxy Brown', The Black Female Badass Makes A Comeback In 'Proud Mary'
Could this be the start of a wave of action films with strong, black female leads?
January 12, 2018 at 5:07 pm
If you are a fan of the Pam Grier vehicle, Foxy Brown, then the idea of Taraji P. Henson in the title role of the new Sony/Screen Gems film, Proud Mary is something you’ve been waiting for since the resurgence of the blaxploitation genre of the 1990s. Proud Mary is a bit different; it is what you would get if Shaft and Foxy Brown had a daughter whose godmother was Cleopatra Jones.
Loosely based on the film Gloria, Taraji P. Henson as Mary— decked out in all black leather— speaks more to the legacy of Black female badasses in the heyday of the blaxploitation flick than the 1980s crime thriller from which it derived. What makes this film stand out most, is that at a time when women in Hollywood are speaking up and boldly stating #TIMESUP when it comes to sexual harassment and assault in the entertainment industry, there is no call for diversity in starring roles in films where the protagonist is a strong female lead. For the last 40+ years after the boom of blaxploitation films, these roles are not offered to Black women. For this reason, unless in a supporting role, Black women are not being considered for the awards and the lead roles they deserve. However, Proud Mary could possibly change that.
Taraji P. Henson is a veteran actress with over 20 years of films and television roles to her credit, so why is she just getting a meaty, starring role such as this? The answer is simple: black women cannot be portrayed as badass without being turned into a sexual conquest. One of the things that I love about Pam Grier in roles like Coffy and Friday Foster is that she is able to transcend the stereotypes about Black women being the docile Mammy figure. She was strong, sexy and she didn’t play when it came to her family, her men and her money. What is disheartening about these roles— and this speaks to Pam Grier’s vision that being in these films would inspire a new generation of Black actresses— is the fact that filmmakers of the 1970s didn’t think a film with a black female lead would do well unless it positioned her as an insatiable temptress who uses her sexuality as a prop. If she can exude inner strength and determination, then they are the added bonuses to her character, but not the focus.
Not everyone is pleased however with the rollout of the film. Black Twitter has been very vocal is calling Sony/Screen Gems to task in how little promotion they have been doing with this film. If Taraji was a new actor, perhaps this could ride, but she is more than capable of carrying a film in a starring role and the popularity of Hidden Figures and Empire is evidence of this. If they were willing to part with the money to make the film, they should invest in promotion for the film. The criticism from the African-American community on this is valid and should be taken into consideration.
Also not pleased is the composer of the song, 'Proud Mary,' that is used as both the title and the theme song for the film. John Fogerty voiced a complaint that he didn't like the song being used for a film that he has yet to see, but by the trailer alone has assumed it is something different. Fogerty has not taken legal action, however, to stop the use of the song, nor has he refused payment of royalties.
We don't see this when a film stars a white, female character is taking charge of her life and is ready to fight or her freedom. This only happens with black women and this is only happening now because we are in a time that black women have demonstrated a phenomenal amount of social, political and cultural power. From the Alabama special election in December of last year to having a film last summer that grossed over $100 million at the box office, to launching #MeToo and Black Lives Matter. Black women have carried this country on our backs and now it is time that the world takes note and acknowledges that we are more, we want more and we are capable of doing more, particularly in the arts.
That's why films like Girl's Trip, Hidden Figures and Proud Mary are so important— these films show the range of talent that Black women have as actresses. It shouldn't haven't taken 44 years to get here, to get a film like Proud Mary that shows we, too, can kick ass! It should not have taken a phenomenal actress such as Taraji P. Henson 25 years to get this kind of starring role where she's not just a black star, but she's able to be an absolute star, regardless of color.