We The Party may be a teenage comedy/drama, but in reality, it's more like a family affair. Written and directed by veteran actor and film-maker Mario Van Peebles, the movie also stars a total of seven Van Peebles, including a cameo by the legendary family patriarch, Melvin.
Much of the film is based upon the sense and style that Mario learned from his own children, as he explored their world to discover the realities of today's youth. AllHipHop.com chopped it up with Mario and his son, Mandela, who plays the movie's lead character, about how the father and son were able to relate and work together to make this film:
AllHipHop.com: I sometimes have a hard time understanding the new style and sound of today's generation. I heard that you got a crash course from your children about this generation's sense of style in order to make this movie.
Mario Van Peebles: I spoke to Snoop Dogg about this, because he rolled through with his kids. I actually went to a club with my children, dressed “incog-negro,” as if I was their security. I looked like the world's oldest teenager. It was real cool because I saw a side that most parents don't get to see, because they don't want to see or just don't notice.
I made a deal with my kids. I told them that I would go, but I wanted them to act and talk like they normally would without me there. That's kind of the way that I made We The Party. I wanted them to be real, but in the context of being real, we could still have conversations and move them forward. Society started these conversations of hyper-materialism and sexuality. Let's have that conversation and see where it leads. In the movie, we get in to some heavier stuff even though people might think that this is just a party flick.
AllHipHop.com: I know you have a Hip-Hop background, but even with that didn't you have some culture shock about today's style and attitude?
Mario Van Peebles: Yeah! To see kids on the dance floor, it was like “safe sex on the dance floor.” The last time I danced like that, I had a kid [laughter].
AllHipHop.com: We had “freak” dancing back in our time, though.
Mario Van Peebles: Totally! Even with Psychedelic funk era there were some wild songs back then, but the stuff that they're saying now, like one of the characters in the movie says, “You have to have a condom on just to listen to the radio.”
AllHipHop.com: How much of a challenge was it to direct your own children in this movie?
Mario Van Peebles: I think what's cool of them is that they are bilingual. They know how dad talks on the set, and they know how I am in our other life [At this point, Mario calls for his son Mandela to join the conversation]. He's asking me about directing you in this movie.
Mandela Van Peebles: It's an interesting thing because he's been directing me for 18 years! Honestly, it's a blessing, because I know that whatever he says, comes from a place of love. He wants to see me do my best. I know that when he gives me criticism, it's more like advice.
AllHipHop.com: Weren't you frustrated at some point, Mandela?
Mandela Van Peebles: Yes, but who isn't? He wants what's best for me. If he tells me that he wants the scene done a certain way, he genuinely thinks that it would be better for my performance. Plus with him being the director, I don't want people to think that there's nepotism going on.
One of the things that I made an effort to do was to be on the set early 30 minutes before my call time. I made it a point to be ready and to know my lines. I wanted to set a good example for the other actors, so that I wouldn't look like the lazy son that received special treatment or that I only got the job because he's my father. At the same time it's a symbiotic relationship, because while he's telling me what lines I need to say, I'm suggesting certain lines to be twisted to match what kids are really saying. I'm trying to keep the dialogue “fresh," and I think it all worked out pretty well.
AllHipHop.com: Your dad went to the club with you disguised as your security. When I was your age, I don't know if I could have acted the same in a scenario like that if my dad was around.
Mandela Van Peebles: He's a pretty chill guy. The thing is, it's not me who didn't want him to go to the club. I have no problem with it. He's the homie. But the question was would the other kids in the club act the same, know that he's there. I could have fun with my grandma. Our whole family is fun. We disguised him, and it went well. The movie came from it.
AllHipHop.com: Mario, were you harder on your son than your father was on you when you had parts in his films?
Mario Van Peebles: I think I'm easier. My dad is loving but he's more of a paternal fascist. The fight that he had to get his films done were more difficult than mine. They were trying to shoot him when he made Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song. There were no Blacks, Hispanics or Asians in the unions, to speak of. When he tried to integrate the unions, they wanted to kill him. When my father, Melvin Van Peebles, said that he wanted to make a film with a team of integrated folks and to get them in the union, they didn't like that. He had a much tougher fight, so he had to be more of an aggressive character to get things done. My battle was different. I came in after he broke the door down, and I just had to take over the bank.
[Points to his son] Now his job will be different from mine. He's gonna say, “Granddad broke down the door to the bank. My father bought the bank. Now I have to make sure that the bank is green, because we're going to get washed down the river if man can't get right with Mother Nature.” It's a bigger battle than just Black versus White or straight versus gay. We've got to get it right with Mother Nature, or we're going to be in trouble shortly. They're going to have bigger battles.
AllHipHop.com: I read that you let your kids throw this huge party at your house!
Mario Van Peebles: Dude, tell him about that party Mandela.
Mandela Van Peebles: It went like this. See, he's kind of known to be thrifty and economic.
Mario Van Peebles: I am economically conscious. I don't want to spoil these little Hollywood brats. We've got kids up the block from us that get cars for their birthdays. What kind of thing is that? How are you going to know what to work for when you get a car for your birthday?
AllHipHop.com: If I had a party at my house, I would be freaking out over the guests breaking things and acting up.
Mandela Van Peebles: So my dad gave me and my brother a little bit of birthday money. It wasn't much to what other kids were getting, and we're like, “Damn. We're supposed to be flexin'. Everyone else is, why not us?” So we decided to put our money together to throw a party and make money. So we put our money together and bought a DJ, some security, and a few refreshments. We invited a bunch of people, because we were pretty popular at our school, and we charged them all $10 to come and party with us. It was outside, so we were all good. Nothing was going to be broken. At least 800 people came. It was crazy!
AllHipHop.com: Wow. So you guys were like those Project X dudes.
Mandela Van Peebles: Yeah, but he [points at his dad] said it was all good. There were no worries. It was a blast.
Mario Van Peebles: It was like Project X! But they knew that I would whoop somebody's natural a** if they tore my sh*t up [laughter].
Mandela Van Peebles: No cars were destroyed or anything.
AllHipHop.com: Mario, did you party it up at their party?
Mario Van Peebles: I was there and I went around with my camera. I had some cool a** adults there with me, too. The kids hired security, so that was cool.
Mandela Van Peebles: It was real security, too! It wasn't Project X security. Not some little kids with a taser.
Mario Van Peebles: It was mad fun! I still have the videotapes. We should look at those one day. I didn't film it for the movie. I was like, “Dude! This is crazy! I need to film this.”
AllHipHop.com: Nothing got out of hand? Police didn't stop the fun?
Mandela Van Peebles: We're kind of far off from the street, so noise wasn't a problem.
AllHipHop.com: Mario, I heard that you were a special guest DJ at 93.5 KDAY's “Superstar Takeover” recently. What songs did you play?
Mario Van Peebles: Yes! I started out with “New Jack City” and then I went in to “Truth,” which I wrote for We The Party. YG performs that in the movie. After that, I played something from my father's film Sweet Sweetback. Then I went into “Skin Tight” from The Ohio Players. I also played a song that Mandela made with his brother and cousin.
AllHipHop.com: Mandela, can you relate to the music from your father's generation?
Mandela Van Peebles: Oh yes. We were driving back from San Francisco last Monday, and we were jammin' to Bob Dylan. I love all kinds of music. It's just that this generation is very focused on rap.
Mario Van Peebles: Mandela listens to everything. He's eclectic. At home, we have movie night every Wednesday, and what did we watch last, Mandela?
Mandela Van Peebles: Easy Rider with Peter Fonda.
Mario Van Peebles: We do it all. It's been fun culturally at our house. We mix it up. I'll take stuff that they've taught me and vice versa.
AllHipHop.com: You guys have a cool dad, Mandela.
Mandela Van Peebles: He is a cool dad.
AllHipHop.com: A lot of kids have grouchy and cantankerous parents.
Mandela Van Peebles: My brother Makaylo would always ask our dad, “Where's your robe, slippers, and pipe?” It's funny when we thought what was supposed to be a normal dad, but we just never grew up with that.
AllHipHop.com: You referred to your dad as “the homie” earlier. I could never get away with calling my dad “the homie!"
Mario Van Peebles: I love it. Patrick Cage, an actor in our movie, has kind of adopted us as his family. He's working on a movie with Mandela, with him producing and Mandela directing. They were directing me last night.
AllHipHop.com: Oh really? What was it like directing your father, Mandela? Did you get any type of revenge or payback on him?
Mandela Van Peebles: No. We're pretty open to criticism, or as what I'd like to call “advice.” Of course, he has more experience so I'm open to suggestions. It's really helpful actually, because it's my first time directing. It's good for him to give me advice on how to direct him. In a way it's like getting $10 from your parents to buy them something – and with you feeling like you still bought it.
AllHipHop.com: Did you ever think that you were going to follow in your dad's footsteps?
Mandela Van Peebles: I still don't know to this day. I'm just having fun acting and directing right now. What's fun to me right now may not be later. Right now, this is fun.
AllHipHop.com: Mario, did you ever try to dissuade him from the business?
Mario Van Peebles: Not really. I mean, I don't want him to be an a**hole. This business will magnify who you are. If you're a jerk, then you will be a super jerk. People will only put up with that for a while. If you're cool with yourself, then that will be magnified, too. My grandfather was in the tailor-shop business. My dad worked for him in the tailor-shop. That didn't mean he would be a tailor, but it did mean that he would understand work ethic. It would also mean that he would understand people skills and making a change in what you love doing. I love being in the film business. My second love is working with people that I love and enjoy. My third love is saying something with it. So if I'm going to make a movie like We The Party, it's going to have something to say. It's not just going to be about music and fun. It's going to say something that can help move us forward.
We The Party is now in theaters nationwide.