Pam Grier had co-starred in several women in prison movies and a few blaxploitation films before getting the lead role of 1973’s Coffy.
Blaxploitation films had exploded in popularity and American International Pictures had lost the rights to make Cleopatra Jones – which Warner Bros. made and released in the same year. American International Pictures being American International Pictures quickly raced and made Coffy to beat Cleopatra Jones in theatres.
Both films featured a strong black female lead in an action film. Pam Grier stars as Coffy a nurse whose sister is killed by a drug overdose. Coffy becomes a vigilante out on the streets hunting down drug dealers and pimps and killing them.
Coffy’s police officer friend is beaten and crippled and she becomes even more determined. Meanwhile Coffy’s boyfriend is about to run for the senate. Jack Hill directed Pam Grier in a couple of women in prison movies and was impressed with her so when he got the job of directing Coffy he wanted to work with her again. Hill would also direct Grier in her next movie Foxy Brown, another vigilante action film. Grier would make a couple more action films but then 1980s hit and she was forced into more supporting roles like in Above the Law. Quentin Tarantino being a huge fan of Pam Grier and her movies made Jackie Brown for her to star in.
Cleopatra Jones starred Tamara Dobson as a secret agent who fights evil drug lords to keep drugs out of her community. The writers and producers saw the film as more of a female Bond movie. Dobson is glamorous and badass and fights an over the top evil villain named Mommy played by Shelly Winters. A sequel was made two years later but was less successful as the original.