The Revision: Friday Foster

Friday Foster is a photographer and part-time model that works as an assistant to the famous photographer, Shawn North. Her career takes her from her home in Harlem to all over the world as she manages to get people out of trouble, champion the underprivileged, and, sometimes, find love. She always looks amazing while doing it.

If you think this sounds amazing, you’d be right.

The cover of Friday Foster: The Sunday Strips

Friday Foster, by Jim Lawrence (writer) and Jordi Longarón (art) wasn’t the first comic strip to feature a Black woman as the main protagonist (Jackie Ormes’ Torchy Brown predated it by several decades), but it had fairly wide distribution through Chicago Tribune Syndicate. It only ran for about four years though, and the comic itself faded into a bit of obscurity.

Ablaze Publishing had Friday Foster: The Sunday Strips (edited by Christopher Marlon) in the works for a while but there was that entire pesky issue of the pandemic so it was obviously delayed. I was delighted to have this book in my possession so I could finally read more of Friday Foster than just the bits I had found online. The book itself is really well-compiled and the reproduction is great (although sometimes the re-lettering doesn’t match up to the word balloons). Marlon included a lot of background information about Friday Foster, including interviews and essays. In some ways, it was the release of this book that finally pushed me to do this project.

As for the comic itself — it’s great! Since this is just a collection of Sunday strips, there are some details from the strips from the days in between that get left out but the storylines are easy enough to follow (that’s how comic strips were designed to be, after all). The stories are breezy and fun and Friday is a wonderful character. Friday is empathetic and kind while never putting up with anyone’s intolerance. She’s brave, sometimes foolishly so, but she’s smart and knows how to solve problems in unexpected ways. Friday is clearly gorgeous (every other character comments on this) and she can wear clothes like no one else. Longarón does a great job of capturing 1970s fashion in both Friday’s everyday life and in the world of high fashion.

While there are parts that do feel a bit dated (and it’s worth noting that neither Lawrence nor Longarón are Black), it’s surprisingly progressive in the way it deals with race issues, immigration, sexism and body issues. It’s a lot of glamourous adventure through the world of the rich and famous, but these things give it relevance even now that I appreciated.

Certainly, things could be more subtle — Shawn, who is a typical blond white man, tends to accept women who are different (whether they’re feminists or have a non-model body) by falling in love with them. But hey, at least he’s growing as a person and I also understand what the creators were doing there.

Friday Foster (1975, directed by Arthur Marks) tends to get put into the category of blaxploitation and I’m not saying it’s not, but I think some people tend to dismiss it because of that. Yes, there is sex and violence and some slurs were thrown around (although all of those things are pretty tame as blaxploitation movies go) but it’s stylish, smart and fun.

The plot isn’t taken directly from the comic strip but is an original story by Marks and Orville Hampton. The movie follows Friday (Pam Grier) as she stumbles onto a conspiracy to kill all top Black leaders, including Blake Tarr (Thalmus Rasulala) and Senator David Lee Hart (Paul Benjamin)

Grier is basically perfect as Friday. She brings the right level of impulsiveness, intelligence, and understanding to Friday. She’s not going to let her friend’s death go unsolved, no matter how much trouble it gets her into.

Pam Grier as Friday Foster from a still from Friday Foster

Yaphet Kotto as Colt Hawkins, a private detective, fulfills the role of giving someone for Friday to play off of and accompany her on her adventures. I love Kotto’s Colt — he’s sarcastic and playful toward Friday. He finds her tendency to constantly find trouble for herself exhausting but he’s never going to let her down.

Eartha Kitt also plays fashion designer Madame Rena, which is a nice way to bring the high fashion of the comic strip into the movie. Kitt isn’t in this movie nearly enough but she’s a delight in every single one of her scenes.

I am a fan of Friday Foster and I would be anyway but part of why I have such affection is for this movie is that (most) of the Washington, D.C., scenes were actually shot in Washington, D.C. So many movies and TV shows try to fake D.C. locations and it never works out very well, especially if you live in the area. D.C. has such a distinctive look that it’s hard to replicate. Being able to see scenes of 14th Street from the 1970s is so incredibly cool.

(And oddly, while Washington National Airport was prominently featured in transition scenes, parts of the movie that were supposed to take place at Los Angeles International Airport were shot at Washington-Dulles instead.)

Friday Foster isn’t some grand masterpiece of cinema and I’m not trying to claim it is, but I have recommended this to a few people and everyone who has seen it has been surprised by how good this is (and to people in this area, the D.C. stuff doesn’t hurt too much). I actually like that it’s an original story and not one from the comic itself. It points to how many stories can be told using this character.

I have read the rights issues for the comic strip are in a weird limbo so we’re unlikely to see any more Friday Foster adaptations any time soon. As much as I don’t believe every single thing need to have a movie or TV show adaptation, I just feel like Friday Foster is way overdue for a revival. Who doesn’t want more adventures from a photographer/part-time model who always ends up helping those who need it?

Since there are no more Friday Foster adaptations to write about, I’ll be writing about the “Little Lulu” episode of ABC Weekend Specials from 1978 on Patreon (there was a sequel that aired in 1979 but that’s been lost to time).