Creating and consuming art is an act of emotional outlet. Sometimes it reflects what we see in the world, but sometimes it provides an escapist fantasy for how we want the world to be. In the 1970s, the black community was being decimated by a drug epidemic running rampant and sucking money out of the community. Kids were getting hooked on cocaine as faceless drug dealers raked in the money without reinvesting it. Police were of no help, as they went seemed to focus on incarcerating the replacable low level drug dealers and drug addicts without solving the root of the problem. So, many found solace in the blaxploitation cinema of the 1970s.
The 1970s were awash in crime films. On the one side, films like Dirty Harry and The French Connection cynically pushed a violent glorification of rebellious leadership structures in the face of a changing environment. On the other, films like Vanishing Point lamented the death of the rebel in the face of a dominant conservative ideology. The white community was dealing with the death of the rebel in the face of Vietnam and Nixon.
Built in the same vein, the blaxploitation genre provided an outlet for a community; a series of heroes for people to latch onto. Pam Grier was one of a handful of women who wielded the power of the hero, avenging the destruction of her community against The Man. Pam Grier’s Coffy is a fantasy construction of a brilliantly hot woman violently seeking revenge for her sister’s addiction to drugs. She steadily kills her way up the drug chain, killing pimps and drug dealers along the way.
Director Jack Hill played fast and furious with these films, keeping them witty and thrilling while allowing the audience to vicariously celebrate in the on screen action. Though all this background makes Coffy seem like an issue-heavy slog, the closer equivalent is the action movies of the 1980s and the comic book movies of now. They allow the audience to vicariously enjoy the violence and heroism, even as they tackle tougher topics. Plus, they provided an image to look up to, a strong lead who fought for her beliefs.
Coffy airs Saturday Night/Sunday morning at 2:05am on MGMHD