What really separates Pam Grier from all the other women of her generation? The '70s had no shortage of buxom women who were willing to disrobe on film. She was not in big-budget movies. What exactly is her appeal? I imagine several things come into play, but boil down to one thing—she had no equal.
Today we have numerous female action stars and professional athletes. It was different for Pam's generation. In the commentary on the Coffy and Foxy Brown DVDs writer/director Jack Hill discusses how difficult casting and performing action scenes could be. Not only could he find few actresses who could match Grier physically, he could find few who could perform physically at all. Both Coffy and Foxy Brown had fight scenes that took some arrangement to pull off. In Coffy, Grier was to fight a woman named Harriet (Dea St. Lamont)—a massive woman who dwarfed Grier. Unfortunately she was not athletic enough to do a fight scene, so Hill made it a comedy scene by having Grier run away from her as she threw items and swore. In Foxy Brown, Claudia (Juanita Brown) finds herself in a lesbian bar, and Pam has to fight their way out. The idea for the lesbian bar came in part because they could use female stunt women for the fight scene without having to glam them up.
Grier's combination of physicality and sex appeal were only matched by Tura Satana, but where Satana hitched her wagon to Ted V. Mikkels, Grier found herself with Roger Corman and the blaxploitation movement. Grier also excelled at not just being a hard ass, but also capable of sensuality and comedy. Her smarts aided things as well, as Jack Hill mentions that many of the improvised weapons Coffy and Foxy use are from Grier's suggestions. Also, if it was just tits, ass, and beat-downs that we loved, we wouldn't enjoy her in Jackie Brown, Escape from LA, or Fort Apache the Bronx as much as we do.