March 21, 2005

ALL SWEETNESS AND DARK:

Son's homage a reminder of community activism: Filmmaker Mario Van Peebles has baadasssss genes (Craig Mathieson, 3/20/05, The Age)

When actor and director Mario Van Peebles recently went to a parent-teacher night at his 12-year-old daughter's Los Angeles school, he learnt that his little girl was asking difficult questions. He was delighted - the Van Peebles DNA was kicking in.

"They were telling me how in class the question arose of who discovered America, and she asked how could Columbus have discovered America when the Native Americans were already there," notes the beaming filmmaker.

"In black studies, she wanted to know why they were learning about victimisation and oppression, but not people like Malcolm X and Mandela."

That same family spirit - to seek out the truth and to stand on your own feet to help spread it - powered two important moments in independent cinema more than 30 years apart. In 1971, Mario's father, Melvin, an author and director who'd spent most of the 1960s in France, made Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, a groundbreaking moment in black film that put a political agenda on the screen and proved to be highly profitable.

In 2004, Mario recreated that milieu - Hollywood indifference, money difficulties, revolutionary ardour amid hippie concerns - for Baadasssss!, a bare-bones independent picture that traces how his father succeeded against the odds.

To complete the transition between generations, Mario, who'd appeared in Sweetback when he was just 13, now played Melvin in all his monomaniacal glory. It's a tough, affectionate portrayal.


If not quite up to the level of his father's blaxploitation classic, it's nonetheless one of the better films about filmmaking you're likely to see.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 21, 2005 6:29 AM
Comments

Shaft had better music.

Posted by: h-man at March 21, 2005 12:31 PM

The sleazy, racist no-talent son of a sleazy, racist no-talent father. And I'm supposed to care for what reason?

Posted by: bart at March 21, 2005 1:21 PM

Because they're both good movies.

Posted by: oj at March 21, 2005 1:26 PM

I wouldn't waste a penny on the son's film, but the old man's was dopier and more tedious and even more poorly made than Spike Lee's racist, amateurish piece of garbage, 'Do the Right Thing', which is material for Mike and the Bots on MST3K.

Posted by: bart at March 21, 2005 1:44 PM

Y'all always fear powerful black men.

Posted by: oj at March 21, 2005 1:58 PM

I just think that celebrations of racist violence as somehow empowering are merely stupid. In Do the Right Thing, they burn down the pizzeria because they don't like the fact that Sal doesn't have any Black fighters on the wall. Well, guess what? Nobody makes pizza there anymore.

If life's so tough in America for van Peebles and Lee, Africa is 6000 miles thataway.

Posted by: bart at March 21, 2005 3:06 PM

America is built on racist violence.

Posted by: oj at March 21, 2005 3:47 PM

Channeling Howard Zinn?

American history has, with fits and starts, been almost entirely about reconciling the 'races'. We've had our problems and there has been no shortage of serious abuse. But we have learned from our mistakes and racism has no place in our culture, and certainly our economic life, today. That is far more than can be said for pretty much every other part of the globe.

Posted by: bart at March 21, 2005 4:22 PM

bart:

No. I think it a good thing, he a bad.

Posted by: oj at March 21, 2005 4:35 PM

Bart: You really need to watch the movie while considering the possibility the Lee understands that destroying the pizzaria over the pictures on the wall -- to the extent that's what's going on -- was not rational and cost the neighborhood its pizzaria.

[First he got Peter to defend the French, and now he's got me sticking up for Spike Lee.]

Posted by: David Cohen at March 21, 2005 8:43 PM

while no expert on blaxploitation i do have a fair exposure to the genre, and like it. Peeble's film is ok and worth a look, but for my money its a little too atmospheric.

i like Shaft, The Mack, The Slams, Superfly, etc
straight ahead action from a black perspective.

Posted by: cjm at March 21, 2005 11:19 PM

David,

Puh-leeeeeeze!

Lee clearly indicates that the destruction of the pizzeria was more than justified even if it had negative impact on the community.

I spent most of the 70s living in NYC and Black on Jewish violence caused me to join JDL, which I remained a member of until I needed a security clearance for work-related reasons.

Posted by: bart at March 22, 2005 7:16 AM

And they gave it to you?

[As for the movie: Exactly. Lee understands that there is a cost to burning down the pizzaria. I'm not sure, though, that he thinks it is justified, so much as he thinks that it is understandable given the history of black oppression.]

Posted by: David Cohen at March 22, 2005 10:44 AM

David,

Security clearances were no serious issue. At the time,two of my dad's best friends were generals at the Pentagon and my cousin Avi was the Jewish chaplain at West Point. :)

Destroying the property of an innocent man is understandable because of some amorphous sense of 'oppression?'

Posted by: bart at March 22, 2005 12:48 PM
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