Who's Bad...She's Bad

Pam Grier, Tamara Dobson and Gloria Hendry - three Black women who had a significant impact on 1970's Black film.

By Museum Of UnCut Funk

Museum Of UnCut Funk Collection

The Black Movie Boom of the 1970’s created opportunities for many young Black actresses and introduced new talents such as Pam Grier, Tamara Dobson, Gloria Henry, Judy Pace, Paula Kelly, Carol Speed, Marki Bey, Rosalind Cash, Johnnie Hill, Jeanne Bell, Shelia Frazier, Brenda Sykes, to name a few.

Sugar Hill US One Sheet Movie Poster (1974/1974) by American InternationalMuseum Of UnCut Funk

Sugar Hill starring Marki Bey

February 7, 1974 - US One Sheet Movie Poster

Sugar Hill TrailerMuseum Of UnCut Funk

Velvet Smooth US One Sheet Movie Poster (1976/1976) by Howard Mahler FilmsMuseum Of UnCut Funk

Velvet Smooth starring Johnnie Hill

June 30, 1976 - US One Sheet Movie Poster

The Battle Of The Beauties

During the early days of Black film making, Black actresses achieved limited success due to racism in the industry. However, the over 100 Black films in production during the early 1970‘s sparked an on going search for Black woman to play leading roles. During the era of the “Black Film Boom” competition heated up for choice parts. So fierce was the competition that some columnists and critics referred to it as “The Battle of The Beauties.”

An Ebony Magazine article published in November, 1973 titled The Battle Among The Beauties quoted a well-known Hollywood publicist; "High-spirited competition is a Hollywood tradition, and Black actresses are no exception. So certain rivalries have developed. For instance, one top Black actress will refuse to appear in the same movie in which a contender is also featured. Some Black actresses will do anything to get a part, even to the extent of spreading rumors that another actress is on dope or unreliable."

"While some new Black actresses have remained levelheaded about their success – and most of it is very modest – one or two have "gone Hollywood” and seem to enjoy playing the "big star" role."

Abby US One Sheet Movie Poster (1974/1974) by American InternationalMuseum Of UnCut Funk

Abby starring Carol Speed

December 25, 1974 - Us One Sheet Movie Poster

Abby TrailerMuseum Of UnCut Funk

TNT Jackson US One Sheet Movie Poster (1974/1974) by New World PicturesMuseum Of UnCut Funk

TNT Jackson starring Jeanne Bell

June 8, 1974 - US One Sheet Movie Poster

T.N.T. Jackson TrailerMuseum Of UnCut Funk

Three of the most sought after leading ladies for action film roles were Pam Grier, Tamara Dobson and Gloria Henry.

Pam Grier stated that she and other actresses often recommend friends for parts – not leading ones, in movies in which they are featured, but explains: “The Black actors and actresses are basically a close knit group – except when it comes to getting parts. You see, when people are starving, they fight!"

Gloria Hendry, a newcomer to Hollywood, observes: “Acting is inherently a competitive field. Black actresses are very competitive, but whites are even more so. We are being exploited at the moment, but the increasing number of Black movies has created a demand which Black actors and actresses can fill. At least more people are working.”

Tamara Dobson refused to appear in the same magazine, "much less on the same page" as Pam Grier. She also refused to participate in the same celebrity events in which Grier was involved. Years later Grier would state in her book My Life in Three Acts that she and the late Tamara Dobson were friends. They tried to get Ebony to retract the quote in the article but they would not.

The Big Bird Cage US One Sheet Movie Poster (1972/1972) by New World PicturesMuseum Of UnCut Funk

The Big Bird Cage starring Pam Grier

July 22, 1972 - US One Sheet Movie Poster

Pam Grier

The daughter of a retired Air Force careerist and a registered nurse, Pamela Suzette Grier was born in Winston, Salem, N.C. After graduating from high school in Denver, she entered Metropolitan State College with plans to become a pathologist. She later dropped out of school, and left Denver for LA in 1968.

At the height of the 1970‘s Black film era, a then 24 year old Pam Grier had lead roles in three films which played almost simultaneously…something which is rare for today’s Black actresses...Scream Blacula Scream, Coffy and Black Mama White Mama.

In 1969, she got her first bit part in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls while working as a switchboard operator at American International Pictures. Shortly thereafter, she snared lead roles in The Big Bird Cage, The Big Doll House, Women in Cages and Twilight People. She had a five-minute part in Cool Breeze, and later, a large role as a pornography queen in Hit Man. She would go on to leading roles in Coffy, Foxy Brown and Friday Foster.

Black Mama White Mama US One Sheet Movie Poster (1972/1972) by American InternationalMuseum Of UnCut Funk

Black Mama White Mama starring Pam Grier

January 19, 1973 US One Sheet Movie Poster

Black Mama White Mama Phillipines Movie Poster (1972/1972) by American InternationalMuseum Of UnCut Funk

Kadinilar Chehennemi aka Black Mama White Mama

Philippine One Sheet Movie Poster

Coffy US One Sheet Movie Poster (1973/1973) by American InternationalMuseum Of UnCut Funk

Coffy starring Pam Grier

May 13, 1973 - US One Sheet Movie Poster

Foxy Brown US One Sheet Movie Poster (1974/1974) by American InternationalMuseum Of UnCut Funk

Foxy Brown starring Pam Grier

April 5, 1974 - US One Sheet Movie Poster

Foxy Brown TrailerMuseum Of UnCut Funk

Tamara Dobson

Tamara Dobson was a promising 6 foot 2 fashion model. The Baltimore native, was a licensed beautician who earned her degree in fashion illustration at the Maryland Institute of Art. She decided to become a model and headed to New York. As a fashion model and model in commercial products, she appeared in a number of magazines and plugged products in 25 television commercials.

She played the heroine in the 1973 film Cleopatra Jones, an action thriller, and Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold, the 1975 sequel. Prior to that, Dobson had small parts in Fuzz and Comeback Charleston Blue.

In the 1973 Ebony magazine article, Tamara said she hastened to make a distinction between the female images projected in Jones and Coffy. “The only similarity between the characters Coffy and Cleopatra Jones is that Coffy is a woman and so am I,” she says. “The difference is that Cleo is a lady, and ladies are always sexy and well groomed. Ladies don’t have to take anything off to excite anyone.”

Cleopatra Jones US One Sheet Movie Poster A (1973/1973) by Warner BrothersMuseum Of UnCut Funk

Cleopatra Jones starring Tamara Dobson

July 13, 1973 - US One Sheet Movie Poster Style A

Cleopatra Jones US One Sheet Movie Poster B (1973/1973) by Warner BrothersMuseum Of UnCut Funk

Cleopatra Jones starring Tamara Dobson

July 13, 1973 - US One Sheet Movie Poster Style B

Cleopatra Jones TrailerMuseum Of UnCut Funk

Gloria Hendry

Gloria Hendry played a number of bit parts before landing five consecutive leading lady roles in Black Caesar, Black Caesar Revenge aka Hell up in Harlem, Slaughter’s Big Rip Off, Live and Let Die and Black Belt Jones. Gloria also had a lead role in Savage Sisters. Her first of several small parts in movies was For The Love of Ivy. Her big break came in 1972 when she went to Hollywood and met Fred Williamson, who was about to film Black Caesar.

This Florida-born actress, grew up in Jersey City and Newark, NJ and got interested in acting as a child. Upon graduating from high school in 1966, she headed to New York where she began taking acting, singing and dance lessons. Working as a secretary, she became a weekend Playboy Club Bunny and began commercial and illustration modeling. She sang and danced in shows in and around New York. Gloria recorded two records. She wanted to continue singing, furthering her acting career and eventually to attend law school.

Savage Sisters US One Sheet Movie Poster A (1974/1974) by American InternationalMuseum Of UnCut Funk

Savage Sisters starring Gloria Hendry

July, 1974 - US One Sheet Movie Poster Style A

Savage Sisters US One Sheet Movie Poster B (1974/1974) by American InternationalMuseum Of UnCut Funk

Savage Sisters starring Gloria Hendry

July, 1974 - US One Sheet Movie Poster Style B

Savage Sisters TrailerMuseum Of UnCut Funk

It is interesting to see how Black movies were marketed differently to Black and white communities. The Savage Sisters style A poster, which features a white actress in the lead position, was displayed in white theaters. The Savage Sisters style B poster, that features Gloria Hendry as the lead was displayed in Black theaters.

Black Belt Jones Japan One Sheet Movie Poster (1974/1974) by Warner BrothersMuseum Of UnCut Funk

Black Belt Jones starring Gloria Hendry

March 29, 1974 Japanese Movie Poster

There are countless Black women who contributed to the film genre known as Blaxploitation. The Museum Of UnCut Funk will continue to archive Movie Posters that capture their work.


You can learn more about the Blaxploitation era at the Museum Of UnCut Funk.

Credits: Story

The information referenced in this article is sourced from an Ebony Magazine article, written in November 1973 by Luci Horton, entitled The Battle Among The Beauties.

The Black movie poster artifacts displayed in this story are from the Museum Of UnCut Funk Collection.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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