Projections - Movie Reviews


Starring Mario Van Peebles, Joy Bryant, T.K. Carter,
Terry Crews, Ossie Davis, David Alan Grier

A raw, cinematic catharsis is the “behind-the-scenes” Baadasssss! With Mario Van Peebles (New Jack City) the director, co-writer, and a co-producer.

Van Peebles persuasively takes the viewer on a trip into independent film making, on how back Americans are portrayed on film back when his estranged father Melvin was adapting his book to the screen “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song.” There’s a lot more going on than just fighting against Hollywood “suits” or the white establishment.

Back in the turbulent early 70's, Melvin, a groundbreaking film-maker who inspired the likes of Spike Lee, as well as his son, depicted the radicalization of a street hustler into a revolution. Mario, near 33 years later, offers a vivid perspective of a man doing something he strongly believed in despite personal and financial hardship.

The director plays his dad here and in his dad’s movie he was cast as a younger version of his father. Though reverence is felt for Melvin, this “making of” low-budgeteer, with Easy Rider-esque and documentary sequences that isn’t sympathetic toward its protagonist, suggesting a deeper personal importance to the project.

A couple of groovy interludes that colorfully blur reality work there way into Mario’s vision. Ossie Davis registers well as Melvin’s dad, Nia Long as a soulful Sandra, and Joy Bryant channels just right into Melvin’s star-struck secretary in a film that knows what it takes to make something vital outside the studio system, and the pitfalls that often come along. Van Peebles puts it all on the table with just enough gusto and edge, making tough decisions and mistakes in dealing with producers, minority cast and crew, pornography, and the Black Panthers in order to relate his vision.

The end credit scroll is well worth checking out to see those involved with the 1971 film that was number one at the box-office, ala My Big Fat Greek Wedding, especially remarks from key players like Bill Cosby and Earth, Wind, and Fire. And, Mario doesn’t forget a signature shot of his dad chomping on a stogie. Maybe he’s hoping more that a few will revisit the mostly forgotten “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song.”


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