Anthony's Film Review
Honest tribute to father, fascinating historical account, and other reasons this movie kiicksasssss...
In 1971, Melvin Van Peebles managed to release his controversial independent film Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song. It was a film that was revolutionary in independent film-making, ushering in the era of blaxploitation films and changing the image of African-Americans in film. Before this, minorities were relegated to supporting roles that the white audience would laugh at. In fact, Melvin's film before Sweetback was Watermelon Man, a film in which a white man has a scary dream of being a black man. Naturally, as a black man himself, he was tired of this prejudice in film. It didn't match his reality of blacks. He would soon be determined to change that.
Baadasssss! is a biographical drama directed by Melvin's real-life son Mario, who also stars as his father Melvin in a straight and explosive performance. This is the story of what it took for Melvin to bring Sweetback to the big screen. It starts out very nicely with historical footage of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, both of whom were assassinated. We also see old movie clips to show how African-Americans were portrayed in film decades before. Then we see a scene with Melvin and his son Mario in a desert, stopping to rest. Melvin comes up with the idea for his next movie: a street brother turned revolutionary. As he puts it, it's not a comedy, but "serious as cancer."
Unfortunately, the project Melvin envisions is not without its challenges. No studio would even dare fund a film that actually depicts a black man beating and killing white cops. This also ends Melvin's three-picture deal with Columbia Pictures. Therefore, he has no choice but to take the independent route.
He manages to get some funds from those willing to help out, including Bill Cosby. Melvin puts together a cast, including himself as Sweetback, and gets his film crew together. He does a nice thing with the crew: purposefully making it multiracial. His movie is a statement about equality for all minority groups, and he makes a point about it with the people behind the camera. It is great to see how the crew all work together as a team and act almost like a second family.
Then, at the moment filming begins, the problems appear. Melvin starts to run real low on money. Some of the film crew get arrested. At one point, Melvin needs someone to play the young Sweetback in a sex scene for the beginning of the movie. In a shocking move, he gets his son Mario to do it, even if the young boy is reluctant (and yes, the real-life Mario was filmed in the 1971 movie). There is a constant feeling of despair as these things happen. It shows how hard it is to make a movie, especially under these very tight circumstances. Even with the end of shooting, distribution becomes another hassle. Sweetback was initially played in just two theaters in the whole United States.
Baadasssss! is a very entertaining, informative, and moving film about one man's intense will to make a change. Melvin was so focused on this one goal that he would yell at others without regard, even at his own son. I may watch Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song just to see what Melvin achieved in 1971, though the sex and violence may make me do so reluctantly. Still, Mario Van Peebles has created a wonderful tribute to his father, one that both father and son can be very proud of. A highly recommended film.
For more information about Baadasssss!, visit the Internet Movie Database.