Actress and all-around cool lady Pam Grier's real-life story rivals any role she's ever played on the silver screen. The star of '70s films like Foxy Brown and Coffy and the 1990s hit Jackie Brown, she recently penned her memoir Foxy: My Life In Three Acts (to be released April 28) -- and she's set to visit the Harvey B. Gantt Center (May 7, 7 p.m.) and RealEyes Book Store (May 8, 1 p.m.) to sign copies of her new release and talk about the lessons she's learned over her lifetime.
It's no small feat that Grier has remained a relevant star since she came on the scene. She's been making films and starring in television shows for three decades, but that isn't all there is to her. In Foxy, she reveals her past as a survivor of rape, cancer and heartbreak. And she does it in a fashion that doesn't come off like the tawdry tell-all books we've been accustomed to reading from other celebrities. She doesn't gloss over her relationships with famous men like NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or the late comedian Richard Pryor. But what she shares -- like trying to help Pryor beat his cocaine habit and the breakup with Abdul-Jabbar because she didn't convert to Islam -- gives greater insight into the type of person Grier is rather than tear down the people around her.
"There were so many lessons that I could share, and I think it's our responsibility to pass on our ability to involve and engage our youth to let them know about our failures and successes and missteps," she says about her book. "I wanted to inspire, create laughter and empower. I was given that by my elders and people who opened so many doors for me."
In her memoir, Grier shares tales about her beginnings, being born in Winston-Salem, N.C., and surviving a car accident at just a few days old as her family drove west so that her father could return to the military base where he was stationed.
Moving through her life, Foxy offers details of a childhood rape that transformed how she viewed herself. For her entire career, "beautiful" has been the word to describe Grier, but because of the violations she suffered at 6 and 18 years old, she avoided putting a lot of stock in her looks, thinking that being beautiful made you a victim.
"I thank God that I was sensitive and not so repressed emotionally that I couldn't feel, then I would be worried," she says. "I don't have the entitlement to be arrogant. I don't have the entitlement to use my beauty as a tool. When you use your beauty, you're a target. You may not have a chance to allow people to see your heart and soul, and that's more important. That's what you want people to see."
Grier also shares stories about the films that made her famous in the book and how, when women began playing the lead roles in the "blaxploitation" films, it became an issue of exploitation.
"Before I did my first film, which was considered exploitation, there were films before me that had male leads. There was Isaac Hayes, Richard Roundtree, Jim Brown and Fred Williamson, they were done before me but when I did it, it was exploitation and I'm the leader. No, I'm not. I'm lower on the totem pole. But whenever a woman does it, now it's an issue."
According to Grier, those movies that she made in the 1970s -- where Grier played a strong woman who stood up to drug dealers and pimps -- exposed problems in African-American communities that were being glossed over by society as a whole.
"I kept seeing our problems in the black community getting swept under the rug, and I thought we needed to expose it and I had two or three films that we could do that in."
And Grier's films from the 1970s have staying power, serving as an inspiration for younger women working in the entertainment industry.
"I remember seeing Beyonce in concert ... I was in the front row, and she pointed me out and told the audience that I was her inspiration," she says. "What I did resonated to many generations in the future because it was a part of the Women's Right's movement. Women were examining their independence and embracing leadership for the first time."
For more info about Pam Grier's Charlotte appearance, visit www.realeyesbookstore.com.