Posté le 15.10.2021
The explosive Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, by Melvin Van Peebles, who died less than a month ago, marked the beginning of "blaxploitation" - action cinema for the black population. His son, Mario, also a filmmaker, remembers his father in this statement distributed to the American press.
“20 years after Melvin made Sweetback outside the studio system, I got to make my film, New Jack City, inside the studio system, because of Melvin and other cats like Gordon [Parks] and Ossie [Davis] — but specifically because of Melvin. He made it easier for all of us who have followed. What enabled him to go where others had not gone before was that he saw rejection as an opportunity to do better.
Everything and everyone said to Melvin, ‘You can’t do this. You need a producer. You need the financial backing of a big studio. Etcetera’ And he just said, ‘Fuck it. Let me do it my way.’ Sweetback became the top-grossing independent film ever up to its time, making something like $15 million at a dollar a ticket. That’s probably $150 million now. And yet in that book about indie filmmaking in the ’70s Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, Melvin isn’t even mentioned. Sweetback made being a revolutionary hip. After that, Hollywood had a movie written by two white guys — perfectly nice guys — called Shaft. And then they saw that Melvin made a hit with his movie, so they rewrote their movie in blackface.
Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, 1971
What a lot of people don’t know about Melvin was how kind he was. I remember going in my teens with him and my sister to a bar mitzvah that we were invited to. We didn’t really know what it was, but we went, and at the party the kids were standing around and seemed rather shy, so my sister and I — we looked like the Jacksons with our big fros — got on the dance floor and killed it. Everyone started clapping and watching us. Afterwards, my dad pulled us aside and said, ‘I’m really disappointed in you guys.’ We asked why. He said, ‘The way you dance is not inviting others to join you. It’s saying, ‘We’re too cool for school and just witness it, but don’t join it.’ And if you don’t bring out the beauty in others, you’ll never understand the beauty of that older gentleman right there, who was in Auschwitz, or of that young girl over there, or of that little Asian guy over there. If you don’t bring out the beauty in others, you’re going to miss out on so much in life.’ So we went back out on that dance floor, and my sister got that older fellow up, and I got the little girl up and we got everybody up. And one of those kids wound up becoming a dear friend and producing a movie with me years later.
As soon as he could make his movies independently, my father got folks to work together behind the camera and in front of the camera in harmony — people who were hippies, from the porn industry, students, Black, Latino, gay, straight, you name it. And then, slowly, Hollywood began to follow suit. Hollywood is still predominantly white male, but it’s more integrated than ever before. He was a pioneer, a maverick and one cool cat.”
Mario Van Peebles
Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song by Melvin Van Peebles (1971, 1h37, Prohibited for children under 16)
Previously unscreened restoration by The Criterion Collection
UGC Ciné Cité Confluence Fri15 7:45pm
Shaft – Les Nuits rouges de Harlem de Gordon Parks (Shaft, 1971, 1h51)
Pathé Bellecour Fri15 9pm