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Friday Foster: A Reversal of Genre Fortunes

Starring: Pam Grier, Yaphet Kotto, Godfrey Cambridge, Thalmus Rasulala, Ted Lange, Eartha Kitt, Scatman Crothers, Carl Weathers and Julius Harris.

Based on the syndicated newspaper comic strip of the same name, 1975’s Friday Foster stars Pam Grier in what would be her final film with American International Pictures. Directed by blaxploitation veteran Arthur Marks, Friday Foster follows the eponymous character, a photojournalist who becomes wrapped up in a dangerous conspiracy.

By the time Friday Foster was released in 1975, Pam Grier was most certainly considered one of the more popular movie stars even thought she was typically working on the outside of the typical movie studio atmosphere. Her rise was quite amazing, going from women in prison genre movies to essentially becoming the first black woman action star. Friday Foster was the last of six films Grier did for AIP and what is most interesting about it is how it functions as the other end of the spectrum for the blaxploitation film and the themes they typically explore.

Pam Grier in Friday Foster

At the start of the blaxploitation era, a movie like Shaft existed for the purpose of showing black faces rebel against the white establishment. It’s often been considered that Shaft functioned as a black James Bond. This character who does as he pleases come hell or high water. Ideas like this were the theme for a good deal of blaxploitation movies. Black characters being renegades against a white power structure. Friday Foster differs from these films. Instead of taking on white supremacy, Friday Foster opts to talk about the consolidation of the Black-American power structure. We don’t get a film of drug dealers, criminals, pimps and prostitutes. We don’t get private eyes and detectives. Although these elements are in Friday Foster, they are not the forefront. We are presented with a world of fashion, of finance, of political influence. We see how the black church plays a role in connection with the political sphere. Grier’s Friday makes a point of letting a known pimp know that she’s happy to be a woman that is gainfully employed and not concerned about welfare. Here we don’t have a woman seeking vengeance like in Grier’s films Foxy Brown and Coffy, but rather a witty lighthearted adventuress, even if she’s wrapped up in a conspiracy.

Pam Grier and Yaphet Kotto in Friday Foster

The plot of Friday Foster coalesces around a group of black leaders attempting to build for themselves a coalition for the purpose having a stronger place in government to be able to provide for the needs of the black community. In this regard, Friday Foster plays like an inverse of the conspiracy thriller of the 1970s. In those films, political leaders are conspiring to either cover up crimes or manipulate events to their benefit. Instead, with Friday Foster we get black leaders working to build their power to then lend that power to the black community.

Another area that Friday Foster examines is the education of black youth for the purpose of protecting them from the criminal elements that can permeate the neighborhood. Throughout the film we see Friday’s younger brother Cleve, played by Tierre Turner. The film leads towards the idea of black capitalism by having Cleve selling the gifts a neighborhood pimp brings for Friday. His sister questions if he has gotten into hustling and the youth simply responds that he’s being capitalistic. Even with these ways of examining different methods of making it through the world of America, I don’t think Friday Foster ever makes the case that this should be the one true way for black liberation, but rather simply a method for it.

Pam Grier in Friday Foster

While Friday Foster isn’t as action packed and is actually lighter on the exploitation elements of the genre (aside from occasional nude scenes from Grier), it’s still a fun romp that is a surprising reversal of the thematic elements that were present in the genre. Even with her star power in prior films, Friday Foster might have closed out Pam Grier’s tenure at American International Pictures with the film that gave her the most to chew on.

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