I remember watching the previews for Jackie Brown on TV when I was ten. I was much more concerned with eating a whole can of Pringles and Reese Cups than knowing the difference between a dope film and a whack film. My passions were video games, basketball, eating, thinking about the girls I had crushes on, escaping my mother’s wrath and eating.
My mother was great, and I love my mother, but she was my mom and pops. Therefore she had to be strong. Not because she is strong, but because she had no choice. My mother is black, tough, weak at times, which then reinforces her strength. When that ten year old me saw the preview for Jackie Brown, I didn’t understand what I saw, and I couldn’t articulate blaxploitation, but I knew it was bad ass, and on some level I related to it.
“Is that what I think it is?” Ordell asks Jackie in an ambiguous, romantic embrace.
“What. Do. You. Think. It. Is?” Jackie answers the question with a question in a sensual, yet chocolatey stern voice.
“I think it’s a gun pressed up against my dick.” Ordell answers coolly, drenched in irony.
“Well you thought right! Now. Take. Your. Hands. From. Around. My. Throat. Nigga.”
Okay, that’s not usually how she greets people. She really is a sweetheart and this was an extraordinary circumstance. Moments before, she was vying for her life in a cat and mouse chase. Earlier that night, Ordell bailed Jackie out of jail because she was caught with his coke. Jackie was unaware of the coke in her bag. According to the FBI, it was enough for an intent to sell.
If Pam Grier’s (Mafia, The Man with the Iron Fists) performance was a dance, it would be a cocoa ballet to the soundtrack of funk, disco, and soul. Grier’s a rare case of black woman power on the screen. If we were to HG Wells it, and go back a decade before Jackie Brown’s time, we’d stumble across a memorable performance from Angela Bassett, portraying the great Tina Turner. Now let’s say we Marty McFlew from Christmas 1997 to 2001, we’d see a coffee-with-cream skinned Halle Berry sexually rage her way through Monster’s Ball. Berry gave Blacks a reason to do an internal Michael Jordan victorious fist pump for being the first black woman to win an Academy Award for Best Actress.
There haven’t been many black women to grace the screen with the power and finesse of Grier. Surely I’m forgetting some others, but not many, and if you have to fact check me, that’s my point.
And slave movies don’t count. As great as they may be, mainstream American cinema seems to need to climax some of that white guilt every few years. Film distributors still control all of the potentially unique, colorful, pun intended and unintended, simple yet complex stories. Not to mention the stories created by the one half of the human species that can carry babies and all that jazz. Women.
Creatively, women grasp the feeling the most. In this case, Jackie Brown had a gun. Not the one she used on Ordell, but her screen presence was the lock, stock and barrel in a cinematic arena where, frankly, there were a bunch of dicks. She takes me on a cool journey every time I watch Jackie Brown. She takes me places I don’t know I want to go.
I’m thankful that I remember those previews as a child. I’m thankful that it gives me a certain warmth to my soul every time I think about or watch the film. Most importantly, I’m thankful that this film wasn’t destroyed by mainstream cinema. If it were a film concerned with box office figures, Jackie would’ve been trembling in her boots in fear of Ordell. But nope, she was as cool as the screwdriver cocktail she made for him 3 minutes prior.