Tamara Dobson died yesterday in her native Baltimore, at Keswick Hospice. She was the daughter of a prominent local preacher/civil rights activist. And she is a heroine who must be re-discovered.
I always thought Tamara Dobson was the prototype, and Pam Grier was the wannabe. But I was a kid when these blaxploitation films reached their apex. Looking at them with fresh adult eyes, Tamara was the kick-ass goddess, Pam was the sex goddess. Oh, if you looked at Pam Grier wrong or you killed/made a junkie out of/turned out, etc. her little sister/brother/boyfriend/husband, that meant your ass, and often, your private part sliced into an olive jar. Pam is a pop culture icon, and despite the cheesecake (oh man, check her out in my favorite slave-ploitation film Drum...makes Mandingo look like Disney), a good actress who still gets starring roles from Jackie Brown, to The L Word, when white women her age are having to play grandma on sitcoms.
Yet Tamara, ahhhh...6'2"...she represented "controlled" violence. She wasn't an avenger like Pam in Coffy. She was usually a detective. Or a gangsta-girl who soured on crime. Or a spy who's cover was a fashion model. Indeed she was the mold for Uma Thurman in Kill Bill. She was regal, intelligent, icy. She always could outsmart "The Man" just as surely as she could kick his butt. Instead of plastic packaged chicks like Beyounce, or rhinestone "don't snitch" thuggettes like Lil' Kim, she is who I hope little girls cheer on the screen. Rediscover her. Say a prayer for her. the world was a cooler place with her in it.
FYI, for you crunchy-granola-dreadlock-Jill Scott/Common/Erikah lovers who ALSO may like blaxploitation, try Martha Southgate's amazing novel Third Girl From the Left, a marvelous story of a young girl's reflections on her mother...an ex-"blaxploitation" actress who never commanded Tamara's stature. Inspiring. And it's a finalist for several book awards.