As this year continues to become prominent for Black-led films, one feature currently generating buzz is Tubi’s Cinnamon. Directed and executive produced by Bryian Keith Montgomery Jr., the film tells the story of star-crossed lovers Jodi and Eddie, played by Hailey Kilgore and David Iacono, whose love story leads them to a world of trouble. One character, in particular, who proves to be a formidable foe for the duo is Mama, played by the legendary Pam Grier. Grier’s character serves as the vengeful matriarch of a family-run crime organization whose business and family face consequences at the hands of the film’s protagonists. The iconic actress, notable for popularizing blaxploitation movies, feels that this role fits into her legacy of portraying strong, nuanced women.
“She’s a force to be reckoned with and goes beyond, spiritually, what I believe in many of my characters. Many women in my family and friend group remind me of Coffy and Foxy Brown and even people I see on the street because they have boundaries, whereas this character doesn’t have any. If you cross her, you’ll have to deal with her, and she was willing to risk her life and everything. I couldn’t watch the film the second time because it gave me anxiety due to her intensity. So I knew that I was working it and that it scared me. That was my preparation, and I knew I did the work if it scared me.”
While Cinnamon has been hailed as a nod to blaxploitation films of the past, from its rich cinematography to the dynamic characters and plot line, the genre is making a comeback. Grier, however, feels that it never went away.
“I don’t think it ever went away. I think we’ve evolved with a younger generation of filmmakers that appreciate it, and the perspective is different but unique. It will live on in the future. I just love that what I did inspired Montgomery and other filmmakers who feel comfortable doing it at another energy level with other beats and look back. It’s the constant elevation of how we make the genre.”
The trailblazer’s prolific career has influenced the artistic endeavors of many women who’ve paid homage to her, including Kilgore, Megan Thee Stallion, and others. Grier feels abundantly proud of them and their imprints on the world.
“I’m very proud of them because they all come from different communities with different perspectives and believe in different issues. It’s a joy to see women not being a monolith because we’re all every woman. So, I regale in it, applaud them, and hope I leave even more for them as I age. I learned from them, they learned from me, and it’s full circle. I’m just elated about the women of today.”
While Grier’s role added mystery and suspense to the film, it was balanced with the levity and light-heartedness of the incomparable Daman Wayans, who portrays car salesman and convenience store owner Wally. Wayans’ character serves as the intricate link between the protagonists and the antagonists, a role in which he wanted to find the perfect balance in character attributes.
“When reading the script, I felt like I knew who this man was. From there, I worked my way back because he’s a salesman who’s taken advantage of Kilgore’s character at the convenience store. He’s not a good guy, but there’s something lovable about him, and that’s what I wanted to highlight. I wanted to walk the line between sleaze and humor.”
Wayans, who executed this duality in the character’s portrayal, praises Montgomery for helping him to bring it all to life.
“I attribute that to the director and his vision. Montgomery knew what he wanted and what he didn’t want. Sometimes, he would give me directives to play Wally because he understood these characters. He was a great director, almost like a conductor. We never really had long talks about it, just tweaks here and there, and it just really helped shape this character. It’s good to have someone that invested as a writer and director.”
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