Movie books

“Baad Bitches” & Sassy Supermamas: Black Power Action Films by Stephane Dunn (book review).

The paucity of black protagonists in our genre, particularly in films predating 2007, is hardly surprising. This trend was highlighted in Stephane Dunn’s book, ‘“Baad Bitches” & Sassy Supermamas: Black Power Action Films’, which caught my attention as it discusses the character ‘Cleopatra Jones’. This character has received less attention compared to the characters portrayed by Pam Grier. Not to discredit Grier’s roles, which I also appreciate, but her roles tend to dominate the conversation.

In her opening chapter, Dunn argues that Cleopatra Jones stands out among Grier’s characters because she initiates action rather than being drawn into it. Dunn also provides an intriguing definition of the term ‘Bitch’ (with a capital ‘B’), referring to someone who refuses to be messed with. A perplexing definition indeed. On a side note, isn’t it high time for a DVD release of the TV series ‘Get Christy Love’?

Chapter 4 is devoted to Cleopatra Jones. Dunn notes that this character, as portrayed by the 6-foot-2-inch tall Tamara Dobson, was the first black action heroine to emerge in 1973. Unfortunately, the sequel, ‘Cleopatra Jones And The Casino Of Gold’, didn’t do the character justice, marking an end to her story. Who wouldn’t admire a heroine with an arsenal hidden in the door of her Corvette Stingray? Curiously, this book is the first I’ve encountered to offer such an analysis, although Dunn references other texts on the subject. If you don’t buy this book, I recommend pursuing the DVD.

Chapter 5 shifts focus to two Pam Grier films, ‘Foxy Brown’ and ‘Coffy’, with an emphasis more on titillation than heroism, which should make you pause. Dunn raises a valid point that, during the 1970s, the roles available to black women in films were quite limited. This chapter offers valuable insight and is definitely worth reading.

A lot has changed since 2007, and I find myself wishing Dunn had written a follow-up book focusing on more recent black heroines. Naomi Harris’ expanded role in the James Bond franchise, where she played a character far removed from the stereotypical secretary role of Moneypenny, demonstrates a significant shift. Over the past 20 years, the representation of black females has improved considerably. Although these early films may have been rough around the edges, they spurred a change in thinking about the roles of black women in film.

GF Willmetts

July 2023

(pub: University Of Illinois Press, 2007. 166 page indexed medium enlarged paperback. Price: varies. ISBN: 978-0-252-07548-3)

check out website: www.press.illinois.edu

UncleGeoff

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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