Melvin Van Peebles not only directed, wrote, edited, and produced his breakthrough, cult and controversial blaxploitation film, he also starred in it, including performing scenes of allegedly unsimulated sex. The protagonist is an orphan raised in a brothel who appears in an erotic show and eventually becomes a killer and fugitive. Sweetback is a lone hero against an oppressive system symbolized by corrupt, brutal—and white—police. Full of violence and sex, this psychedelic odyssey resonates with the turbulent atmosphere of the times of moral revolution and street battles for minority rights. This emancipatory film, which raises the issue of racism, also plays—rather ambiguously—with stereotypes of the “black” body and its mythical potency. Filmed with a crew of amateurs using their own money and a loan from Bill Cosby, Sweet Sweetback’s Baad Asssss Song turns its drawbacks into virtues. The original edit of the film is reminiscent of jazz improvisation, Van Peebles’ delivers dialogue in a style that heralds the coming of hip hop, and the entirety seethes with a rebellious street energy. Filmed in 19 days at a cost of USD 500,000, the movie earned USD 10 million, earned popularity (including approval of the Black Panthers) and paved the road for Shaft.
Born in 1932, Melvin Van Peebles is an American director (also theatrical), screenwriter, actor, composer and writer. A pioneer of blaxploitation, he was one of the first African American directors to make it in Hollywood. Before he took up cinema, he worked as a painter, a postman, served in the army and traveled. He lived in France for a time, where he published five novels. One of them, La Permission, served as the script for his film debut. After the success of Watermelon Man (1970), he made Sweet Sweetback’s Baad Asssss Song (1971) completely independently, which permanently changed the landscape of American cinema.
1968 La permission / The Story of a Three Day Pass
1970 Człowiek arbuz / Watermelon Man
1971 Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song
1973 Don't Play Us Cheap
1989 Identity Crisis
2000 Le conte du ventre plein
2008 Confessionsofa Ex-Doofus-ItchyFooted Mutha