“Black Mama, White Mama” (1973) is a film starring Pam Grier and Margaret Markov. It is a knock-off, female version of “The Defiant Ones” (1958), where Grier takes the part of Sidney Poitier as a escaped Black prisoner chained to a White prisoner, here played by Markov.
My “Links” page has long had a picture from this film (pictured above). It shows Grier and Markov on a bus being taken from an all-female prison to the city for questioning. You cannot see it in the picture, but they are chained together, arm to arm.
The bus is about to be taken by surprise by guerrilla fighters. Grier and Markov flee into the countryside, chained together.
It is not just the police who are after them:
- Markov is in league with the guerrillas. They depend on her money.
- The drug lord that Grier used to work for wants the $70,000 (23,000 crowns) she is trying to leave the country with, a small fortune.
The police offer a $10,000 reward, which puts a gangster on their trail too.
Chase scenes and shoot-outs follow, set to 1970s-style low-budget film music.
Pam Grier is by far the best thing in the film. Her acting is not that great in it, but she more than makes up for it on beauty and stage presence. Because it is R-rated, we get see her, briefly, bare breasted.
The Philippines: They never say what country they are in, but it is apparently the Philippines: people sometimes speak Tagalog and a police officer wears the patch of the Manila police department. Most of the cast is Filipino. I have seen the Philippines play Vietnam in “Apocalypse Now” (1979) and “Platoon” (1986), and Indonesia in “The Year of Living Dangerously” (1982), but I have not seen it play itself.
The film was directed by Filipino film director Eddie Romero, but was made by a US company, American International Pictures. From 1955 to 1980, they made formulaic B-movies aimed at 19-year-old males, films about stuff like drag races, beach parties and space invasions. In the 1970s they made several blaxpoitation films, like “Blacula” (1972) and Grier’s “Foxy Brown” (1974).
Jonathan Demme helped to come up with the story for this film. He would go on to win an Oscar for directing “Silence of the Lambs” (1991).
Grier plays to stereotype – a bad-ass Black prostitute. Yet, unlike some of the White and Filipina characters, she never has sex. She is the only Black person in the film.
Filipina women appear for the most part as prisoners, guards, workers and sex objects who are seen but not often heard. Filipino men carry most of the action and dialogue. Grier and Markov fall in between.
It easily passes the Bechdel Test for race since it is not all about White people. Grier even mocks Markov’s White Saviour pretensions. The all-female prison, which appears at the beginning, does have a high number of White prisoners and guards. They seemed to have been put there for the R-rated shower scene.
IMDb gives it 5.6 stars out of 10, which seems about right.
– Abagond, 2015.
- Links page
- Bechdel Test for race
- White Saviour
- Stereotypes of East Asian women
- Stereotypes of Black women
- guerrilla warfare