Pam Grier as “Mamawi”

Pam Grier as 'Mamawi'For anyone who hasn’t seen The Arena (1973), let me quote from the back of the case: “Female gladiators fight to the death! Inspired by the story of Spartacus, follow the adventures of a bevy of slave girls who, upon finding themselves thrust into the gladiator ring, mount a vicious rebellion to fight their way to freedom.” The rebels are led by Pam Grier (playing ‘Mamawi’, a Nubian dancer) and Margaret Markov (playing ‘Bodicia of Britannia’, apparently), back together again to re-bottle the lightning they unleashed in Black Mama, White Mama!

Never heard of it? Well then, this film probably isn’t for you. This is the sort of B-Movie exploitation fare that Quentin Tarantino grew up on, and frankly it’s a little hard to sit through, unless you have a predilection for cheesy dialogue and somewhat wooden acting. I’m not sure if that’s the cast’s fault, or if it’s a side-effect of the restrictive resources… it must have taken a fair bit of cash and rehearsal time to stage the fight scenes, and since that (along with the comely cast) was what people would be paying to see, there wouldn’t have been much point worrying about nuance or depth of character. There are still a few pretty good jokes in there, among the awfully creaky ones, and a lot more going on plot-wise than you might expect… but it’s no Gladiator, obviously. Grier, however, makes the whole ride a lot smoother, and it’s really no surprise that she has had such a long and successful career. She was one of the first real action heroines, and a true icon for lovers of brassy and sassy cinematic ball-busters… or, to quote one of her posters, “she’s brown sugar and spice, but if you don’t treat her nice… she’ll put you on ice!” Can you dig it?

About Dee CrowSeer

A comic book writer with an interest in feminism, philosophy, and affirmative action. He/him.
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