Mario Van Peebles: Til Revolution

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 jack’s were even a flicker in tinsel town. Melvin Van Peebles was a veteran filmmaker who wasn’t 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 father’s journey to the big screen back in the early 60’s 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 we’re seeing right now is a lot of folks are forgetting that we can be the HNIC that we can run stuff. You’ve got a new rise of the black entrepreneur in our culture that’s happening. You’ve 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 there’s 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 you’ve started a whole thing where after that the studio’s 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 don’t 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 didn’t 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 don’t want you in their restaurants, make your own restaurants, and they don’t 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 that’s all I was doing was trying to tell the truth. I saw it I grew up with it and I’m 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 don’t go see those movies anymore. Hollywood keeps track of the economic negligence as folks just aren’t going to see Vietnam films anymore, but they don’t 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 won’t blame it on the genre they’ll say it’s because there’s black people in it. That’s 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 studio’s 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 that’s saying something relevant and gave it to the mic talking about guns and 40’s what are we dancing to? They take the revolutionary core out because it’s filled with the stuff they don’t want you to know and that’s what “Baadassss” is about.

If the studio’s are making movies about us it will be us clowing on a boat on a plane in a car and that’s ok, as long as we can also show the flip side. I don’t care they can have “Dumb and Dumber” but where’s our “Lost in Translation?” The thing is we just don’t have a large spectrum. It’s 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. It’s the truth and that’s what I’m about.

You can be a part of sitting around complaining about they don’t do this or don’t do that or you can be a part of saying I’m 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.. It’s bad too, it’s fine, classy, ass-kickin and name-taking too, that’s why they call us “Baadasssss!”