Jackie Brown (1997)

It is always interesting to review a Quentin Tarantino movie. Do you discuss the plot or rather do you discuss the style? Tarantino is a genre artist who uses stories as a vehicle to pay respect to the art of storytelling. In Jackie Brown, Tarantino pays homage to the ‘70s era “blaxploitation” films, a genre so diverse that it really lacks a proper definition. It is a movie with predominantly black actors, but it can be a film noir, guns and money flick or straight up action.

In a stroke of genius, Tarantino cast Pam Grier, the former Foxy Brown, in the title role. Grier became famous because of blaxploitation films and it was very appropriate to see her return to the genre. I may be completely off base here, but it always seemed to me that blaxploitation films in the ‘70s were also exploitation films. Black actors could not get mainstream work (even now it is hard), and so this genre was invented for black actors to be in movies that often stereotyped the race as violent, angry, or smutty. This was not the fault of the black actors as it was mostly white men that ran and still run Hollywood. What makes Jackie Brown different is that while Samuel L. Jackson plays a stereotypical arms dealer and money launderer, the character of Jackie Brown is a strong, independent and shrewd woman. Ordell Robbie, the gangster played by Jackson, is stereotypical: he does drugs, he shoots people in cold blood and he smuggles money in from Mexico. However, Robert DeNiro and Bridget Fonda also play unscrupulous characters. Tarantino is an equal opportunity employer of violence and disgrace.

ASIDE: In fact, I would argue that even now, black actors cannot get jobs without taking a stereotypical role. Very few actors have crossed over: Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman, and Will Smith to name a few. Meanwhile, other actors not wishing to further black stereotypes suffer the consequences of unemployment; Angela Bassett comes to mind.

Ahem. Back to the matter at hand. This movie not only gave Grier one last great role, but it also showed completely out of character performances from Michael Keaton (of Batman fame) and Robert DeNiro. Still, Grier was the star of this show. It is a travesty she was not Oscar nominated that year. The scene near the end where she practices drawing a gun is fantastic acting. Her facial expressions without any dialogue at all exude cool and confidence and you can’t help saying to yourself “Damn, that bitch is badass.” She keeps practicing and when she is satisfied with herself, she turns off the light and waits for her visitor. Her need to practice demonstrates her relative naïveté in this arena, but also shows her ability to adapt to the situation.

Another difference in Tarantino’s exploration of the blaxploitation genre is the gravity he gives to the plot. The films of the ‘70s always came off comic and of a lower quality. You could not take those movies seriously as they were often over the top (girls in tiny bikinis wielding machine guns), but Tarantino takes a typical blaxploitation trope, infuses it with catchy dialogue and never lets the plot careen out of its boundaries. Jackie Brown is not superhuman; she is just a woman with nothing to lose.

Since this is a blog about natural hair, a little word on natural hair in this movie after the jump.  Can we comment on Sam Jackson’s hair in this movie? I don’t know if this can be considered natural, but it is NOT appealing. It looks like a stringy nest of unwashed straw. I much prefer his afro in Pulp Fiction. Pam Grier’s hair was gorgeous, although I suspect it wasn’t natural. This, of course, is more of Aulelia’s domain and I will leave it to her to make the final judgment!

Just for fun, part two. Pam Grier is publishing her memoirs this week and she reveals some shocking and NSFW things. Read at your own risk


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