Judged by the low standards of the cinematic cycle to which it belongs, Black Mama, White Mama is fairly palatable, thanks to attractive starlets, brisk pacing, steady action, and a welcome sense of humor. However, the aforementioned cycle comprises a series of lurid women-in-prison movies that American International Pictures shot in the Philippines during the early ’70s, so Black Mama, White Mama is an inherently crude enterprise. Think incessant nudity, swearing, and violence—as well as the constant use of women as sex objects. None would ever argue that this genre represents a high point in human achievement.
Black Mama, White Mama begins when new convicts including African-American hooker Lee (Pam Grier) and white revolutionary Karen (Margaret Markov) are delivered to a prison work farm in the wilds of the Filipino jungle. The women quickly catch the eye of a pair of female wardens, sadistic lesbians who are in a relationship but use convicts as playthings. Naturally, this plot development occasions a scene of a horny female prison guard masturbating while she looks through a peephole at showering convicts. Classy! After the usual scenes of catfights and torture, Karen and Lee escape. Unfortunately, they’re handcuffed together, Defiant Ones-style. Intrigue ensues as the women debate whether to rendezvous with Karen’s guerilla pals or Lee’s criminal chums. Meanwhile, pursuers include Ruben (Sid Haig), a flamboyant hoodlum who dresses like a cowboy, and Captain Cruz (Eddie Garcia), an ambitious policeman. The story also includes something about Lee having stolen $40,000 from a Filipino gangster named Vic (Vic Diaz), who sends bloodthirsty lackeys to chase the women.
Cobbled together by several people (including Jonathan Demme), the story is hackneyed and laborious, but it’s really just a means to an end. As rendered onscreen by prolific Filipino director Eddie Romero, the narrative is merely the gas in the engine of a vehicle traveling at breakneck speed through episodes of bloodshed, nasty interpersonal conflict, and trashy sexualized content. (A typical scene involves Karen slipping off her panties and then placing them around the neck of a dog, thereby throwing pursuers “off her scent.”) Yet when compared to other movies of its sordid type, Black Mama, White Mama is positively restrained—and even periodically entertaining, especially when Haig fills the screen with his gonzo characterization.
Black Mama, White Mama: FUNKY