The spotlight has shifted in Hollywood, with more women than ever taking on lead roles in action films and thrillers. From Hunger Games to Mad Max, Hollywood seems to finally be recognizing the selling power of the female action star. As new and fresh as this phenomenon seems, it's actually several decades in the making. As one of the foremost iconic actresses of the blaxploitation era, no conversation about women in film would be complete without paying tribute to one of the trailblazers of this genre, Pam Grier.

Grier began her career while still in college, majoring in film but not intending to become an actress. Fortunately for us, she was open to the idea when she was discovered by writer/director Jack Hill, and the rest, as they say, is history.

As a leading figure of the blaxploitation genre at the end of the Black Power Era of the '70s, a time when film attempted to exploit African American stereotypes and culture, Grier simultaneously embraced and transcended these stereotypes coming to represent a new cinematic archetype: the strong, sexy, women action star. With an extended list of credits to her name, she is best known for her lead roles in the movies Coffy (1973), Foxy Brown (1974), Sheba, Baby (1975), and Friday Foster (1975). After continuing to work in the industry over the next two decades, she returned to the big screen in a big way in Quentin Tarantino's film written specifically for her, Jackie Brown (1997).

Early roles found Grier playing women of color as strong, sexual beings who are secure in their independence and although still viewed as sexual objects in the films, still able to meet the men in their lives on equal terms. Whether she played a nurse (Coffy), a girl posing as a high-priced prostitute (Foxy Brown), or a private investigator (Sheba, Baby) she used the misperception of her being only a sexual object to her advantage to turn the tables on the male villains. Not only did these roles surpass rigid gender stereotypes, these early films (streaming info here) pushed boundaries and took on both anti-drug themes and settings of police and government corruption.

In addition to being a forerunner for the role of sexy and independent women action star, Grier can also be seen as a forerunner, at least in part, of the popularity of comic-book based roles in film with her title role in Friday Foster, based on a popular comic strip of the early '70s. While not gun-toting throughout, her portrayal as a journalistic photographer is still that of a strong and independent woman.

Come 1997, Grier returned to the big screen in a big way with a role reportedly written specifically for her in Jackie Brown. Playing a more mature and much more complicated woman in this lead role - she is still tough, independent, and sexy, although not entirely on the side of the law this time around. Her character maintains a legitimate job as a stewardess that flies a route between Los Angeles and Mexico, a job that she uses to help a Mexican arms dealer smuggle money into the U.S. She walks a fine line between the arms dealer and U.S. federal law enforcement, ultimately double-crossing both of them and making out with a half million dollars.

Grier was not only instrumental in breaking through racial and gender restrictions in Hollywood at a time when this seemed nothing short of impossible, but she also paved the way for more women to find success in action and thriller roles. From Ripley in Alien to Sarah Connor in The Terminator, popular movies featuring this resurgence of tough and independent female roles, much of this trend can trace its roots to early Grier films.

The Pam Grier of today is showing no signs of slowing down. A cancer survivor, she continues to work in the television and movie industries, with her next movie, Grandmothers Murder Club, set to be released sometime in 2017. She also is very active in working with both charities and non-profits that help animals in shelters and people enduring cancer treatments.