Melvin Van Peebles' Classified X

Director: Mark Daniels
Screenwriters: Melvin Van Peebles

Institute History

  • 1998 Sundance Film Festival


In 1971 with one startling film, Melvin Van Peebles, writer, director, producer, and musician, forever changed the face of American film. Before Sundance and a network supporting American independent filmmakers were even conceivable, Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song wore its “X” rating like a badge of honor and swept through urban theatres like a house on fire. It proved at once there was an enormous audience for independent films, ones where blacks did something they had not done in earlier American films: fight back. Sweetback is the first American film with a black protagonist who refuses to adapt to the daily humiliations of racism. He is neither passive nor good: He is a brother who dares to get “the Man’s foot out of his ass.” Melvin Van Peebles’ Classified X, the startling new documentary written and performed by Van Peebles and directed by Mark Daniels, is about the nightmare images of self that Hollywood offered up to African-Americans in dream palaces across the country before Sweetback, and surprisingly, after.

Movie images sustain racism. Over and over, Hollywood made blacks the objects of derision or fear: African-Americans were illiterate primitives, rustic fools, fumbling servants, or simply outside society. Young blacks began to surrender to these self-images, while whites accepted them comfortably. Using images from classic American films as chilling reference, Van Peebles explains with wit and anger why popular culture is still a matter of black and white.

Mark Daniels, Director
Mark Daniels was born in Massachusetts in 1951. A writer and poet, he began making films in 1979. His first feature film, The Influence of Strangers (1986), won several international awards, including the Joseph Von Sternberg Prize (Mannheim). He has also served as director of photography on a wide range of documentary and feature films in both the United States and Europe. Classified X is his fourth documentary film.

— Laurence Kardish

Screening Details

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