Black Mama, White Mama is the last of the staple of “women in prison starring Pam Grier” films I’m watching. After previously having seen Women In Cages, The Big Bird Cage and Big Doll House. This is her last prison movie. Black Mama, White Mama opens with the usual scene of a bus full of fresh inmates arriving. One of them is Pam and she’s frowning. I guess she felt she was sentenced to this kind of film forever. Well lucky for her a parole hearing apparently came up, because soon after this flick and Pam would go on to star in Coffy. The rest is history. But for now she still has the shackles on…
One of the quotes this movie has on the poster is “Chicks in chains”. This is a term I used in earlier reviews and is widely used for these kind of films. But for once this term actually makes sense. Normally the chains are rarely used. So if there’s a mother of chicks-in-chains movies Black Mama, White Mama must definitely be it.
Black Mama, White Mama is not even a real women-in-prison movie actually. Usually those movies consist of the first 70 minutes set in jail and the final 15 minutes feature an escape attempt. In this movie, Lee Daniels (Pam Grier) and Karen Brent (Margaret Markov) are only imprisoned for about 20 minutes before they run off into the jungle during an escape attempt. But here’s the twist: they are chained together!
Actually that’s the whole gimmick of this film. Pam and Margaret are chained to each other against their will. They don’t like one another the least. They even each want to go in a different direction. Black Mama, White Mama is a movie about two girls needing to overcome their differences. Which they do with cat-fights.
Before the escape the movie plays according to the women-in-prison rulebook. Four minutes into the movie we get a showering scene that lasts almost 3 minutes. In this scene we see several prisoners fooling around with each other and a female guard spying on them and getting off. Which brings us to another familiar trope: The lesbian guard or warden. Well she’s here and she even invites inmates to her quarters at night.
There’s a also sweatbox on the perimeter in which misbehaving women. And of course there’s the basic food and cat fights among the inmates. The script writers are obviously familiar with these tropes and put all this stuff in the first 20 minutes before springing the girls from prison.
After the girls escape from prison they start their own personal quest together. Pam wants to reach the shore so she can sail away with a friend and $40.000,- she stole from a drug dealer (the gay guard from The Big Bird Cage). Margaret wants to join her revolutionists friends because she must lead them to some guns or something like that. So these girls start somewhat of a road trip, but on foot.
They go cross country by foot, bus, boat, truck and occasionally in disguise (as nuns!). In mean time they have to be smarter than the noses of tracking dogs and fight off men who are hunting them for a bounty.
I have mixed feelings about Black Mama, White Mama. Springing the girls so soon from prison definitely made the movie feel fresh and slightly original. But once out of prison all the elements you would expect from a movie like this disappear. Aside for the violence of course. The sadistic guards and wardens are nowhere in sight. That’s kind of a shame really. For once I actually liked the warden.
Teaming up with Pam once more is Sid Haig. Still wearing his moustache from The Big Bird Cage. His role is more serious this time, but he once again is the strongest actor in the crowd. But considering the rest of the casts consists of Philippine locals that is not saying much. At least he knows what kind of material he’s dealing with.
Haig is the centerpiece of the more hilarious scenes in the movie. Like a scene where two police officials have to undergo a dick-measuring-contest and a shoot-out. In this film the shootouts play like scenes from the A-Team. Only with large amounts of obvious fake blood and in which people actually die. It’s just that they die from a grenade that we see exploding meters away and then the guy decides to flip over or just stretch his arms when he’s already on the ground. I kept waiting for B.A. to turn up in his black van.
At the end of the movie Pam gets away with the money on a boat. Margaret is dead trying to make sure she gets on that boat. So if you want the learn a life lesson from this movie it is that it’s OK to steal money from a drug lord, it’s not OK to become a revolutionist. That kind of life will will result in your death. Now you remember that next time you’re on an intersection of your life and have to make a decision: just steal the money.
Of course this movie is not very good. But it was never intended to be and compared to other entries in the genre it’s actually above average There are tons of negative comments that can be made about the quality of the movie, like Pam Grier’s overacting or the bad special effects. But Black Mama, White Mama is actually fun to watch and has a brisk pacing. Even if the shower scene in the beginning lasts too long.
I sentence Black Mama, White Mama to two and a half star for being guilty of being a bad movie but a better one in it’s genre.