Black Mama, White Mama

From a hellhole of twisted desires
★★
☆☆
Released: 
1972
Director: 
Eddie Romero
Starring: 
Pam Grier, Margaret Markov, Sid Haig, Lynn Borden, Zaldy Zschornack
The Setup: 
Two women escape an island prison, chained together.
Discussion: 

This was actually the first “blaxploitation” movie I had ever seen and as such was VERY disappointed. A friend of mine had seen it back in college, and was curious to revisit it. I found it cheap and bought it, and now I have this useless disc in my collection, as this turned out to be kind of a bummer for both of us.

Obviously angling to appeal to those who want to consider the erotic potential of female prisoners, we begin in this women’s prison in the Philippines or somewhere. Pam Grier plays a prostitute, and the white, blonde, beautiful Margaret Markov [of Run, Angel, Run] is a rich girl who has become a revolutionary. They face the attention of a lesbian warden who accepts sexual favors for preferential treatment, and peeps at them through a hole in the shower wall. Basically the first hour is dedicated to anyone who wants to get their meager jollies out of women in prison. They shower, they fight, they get leered at by the female warden… them Pam and Margaret get thrown in “the oven,” where they bicker and stand nude and sweaty in this box out in the blazing sun. Sportin’ a bone yet?

Me neither. Anyway, Margaret has her revolutionary friends, and they attack the prison bus the women are on and the two escape, though chained together. During their time in the oven they have generated some conflict, so we can go with the idea that these two women hate each other but cannot get away from each other. Thus it’s not too long before they’re having a cat fight. They are also ideologically opposed, with Pam as a prostitute who just cares about getting her money and getting off the island, whereas Margaret wants to meet her revolutionary friends and continue with the cause. You’ll note that the rich white girl is the one who wants to liberate people [like Pam], and Pam is black and just cares about herself. I should also mention that Pam wants to go to one end of the island and get the $40,000 that she stole from someone, and Margaret wants to get to the other end of the island, generating still more conflict. Do you think these two might be able to work toward a cooperative relation of respect and understanding?

There are about three or more layers of corrupt cops / bounty hunters after them, as well as the revolutionaries trying to find them, including Sid Haig as a sleazy baddie and some oily guy who has nude women around to kiss his chest and file his toenails, and who also tortures women by hooking electrodes to their breasts. I gave up trying to figure out all the complicated relations of power. Anyway, so soon enough we’re just watching the women escape from various situations while the men look for them and issue threats to one another. It goes on and eventually wraps itself up.

The trailer for this movie shows the title Black Mama, White Mama, but refers to the movie throughout as Women in Chains. It definitely tries to amp up the lusty ladies angle, with lines such as “a thousand nights without a man… a thousand reasons to kill” and “from a hellhole of twisted desires to an inferno of flaming death.” This movie was two years and several movies before Foxy Brown for Pam Grier, so she was fairly unknown. Margaret Markov was actually pretty good here, but her career doesn’t seem to have gone much of anywhere.

Ultimately, this is kind of a bust. If you’re expecting a blaxploitation movie proper you’ll be like “What?” and if you’re expecting a sexy ‘women in prison’ movie you’ll be sorry to see that part end after 30 minutes. It’s just kind of… what is this? Why would someone want to see it?

Should you watch it: 

Only if you’re the most intense Pam Grier fan ever.