From his directorial debut in New Jack City to his latest role as the ultimate Badasss, actor/writer/director and producer Mario Van Peebles has portrayed many facets of Black life through his diverse characters. From street hustlers to cops and even grappling in the wild Wild West, Van Peebles never measured his success through the box office numbers. His gratification came simply from being a player in the game.
His focus emerged at a young age. He got his fervor because his father began thugging Hollywood long before any of todays’ new jacks were even a flicker in tinsel town. Melvin Van Peebles was a veteran filmmaker who wasnt trying to hear what Hollywood had to say. In 1971, he independently crafted Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, a rebellious film that jumpstarted the blaxploitaion era.
In the current movie Baadassss, the younger Van Peebles recreates his revolutionary fathers journey to the big screen back in the early 60s when quality roles for blacks were scarce to say the least. Mario talks to AllHipHop Alternatives writer Octavia Bostick and explained the rich cycle of Black filmmaking.
I think what were seeing right now is a lot of folks are forgetting that we can be the HNIC that we can run stuff. Youve got a new rise of the black entrepreneur in our culture thats happening. Youve got young folks coming out with their own clothing lines, and they starting to realize you vote with two things, you vote with your ballot and you vote with your dollars. They know you can go to movies and see [Black people] clown everyday cause the studios will make a movie with us clowning and being ignorant and theres a place for that.
But for us to see a movie now about a brother who ran the show, about a brother who owned his own movie, about a brother who had a dream to have white folks, black folks, women, Hispanics and made it work. now youve started a whole thing where after that the studios made Shaft, Superfly and Coffey Brown and movies that changed the game for us to see that we could win and we could and we could do it as powerful with chemistry which they often dont want us to know about.
Truly there was no difference playing my father [in Baadassss]. I just put the shoes on and it spoke for itself. I didnt have to mess with it. The story of one man who went up against this studio machine and instead of saying we shall overcome someday, he said no we shall overcome today. Malcolm said it best, If they dont want you in their restaurants, make your own restaurants, and they dont want you in their movie make your own movie. If you make movies for the studio your gonna just be hip-hop comedy but you make your film independent you can show strong brothers winning. Yes we can have humor but we can still be intelligent we can show we are all that, just by making a movie saying we are all that based on the truth and thats all I was doing was trying to tell the truth. I saw it I grew up with it and Im just sharing that truth with everyone else.
Hollywood makes movies like Casualties of War and Apocalypse Now and all these Vietnam themed movies and eventually folks dont go see those movies anymore. Hollywood keeps track of the economic negligence as folks just arent going to see Vietnam films anymore, but they dont blame that on the color of the actors in the movies do they? But if they make Shaft, Foxy Brown, Superfly, and those movies in the ghetto urban action pictures stop making money, they wont blame it on the genre theyll say its because theres black people in it. Thats black exploitation.
Sweetback was about a brother who made being a revolutionary hip. Who made understanding the game and owning his s**t hip. The Black Panthers loved it because it made being a revolutionary hip. Then the studios co-opted the game and made Shaft into a black cop and then our subsequent films they often made being a cop or working for the white man hip or even being a drug dealer hip. You see the difference?
Look here, spoken word starts with the Last Poets and Gil Scott (Heron) and moves up to Chuck D but when they took the mic from the folk thats saying something relevant and gave it to the mic talking about guns and 40s what are we dancing to? They take the revolutionary core out because its filled with the stuff they dont want you to know and thats what Baadassss is about.
If the studios are making movies about us it will be us clowing on a boat on a plane in a car and thats ok, as long as we can also show the flip side. I dont care they can have Dumb and Dumber but wheres our Lost in Translation? The thing is we just dont have a large spectrum. Its a lack of choice so this year we have Baadassss opening. It has fun, it has the sexy aspect, but it also has us winning. Its the truth and thats what Im about.
You can be a part of sitting around complaining about they dont do this or dont do that or you can be a part of saying Im gonna be a part of shedding the light. We want to shed the lights camera and action on how we can be because we can be beautiful. Like my dad said Black is not only beautiful.. Its bad too, its fine, classy, ass-kickin and name-taking too, thats why they call us Baadasssss!