Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song

Director: Melvin Van Peebles
Screenwriters: Melvin Van Peebles

Institute History


It is hard to overstate the significance of Melvin Van Peebles's Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song for both independent film and the black community when it appeared in 1971. The first film to explore black urban life from a black artistic sensibility, it wrote the formula for an entire genre, the so-called blaxploitation films. Van Peebles set out against formidable odds to reveal the tensions seething beneath the surface of Los Angeles's black neighborhoods and entertain a black audience while doing it. Though rated X for its graphic depiction of the seamier side of black city life, Sweetback grossed ten million dollars and remains one of the most popular independent films ever.
"In my film, the black audience finally gets a chance to see some of their fantasies acted out…rising out of the mud and kicking ass," Van Peebles said. Sweetback is an unlikely hero. Raised in a brothel, he soon reveals his chief talent: sexually pleasing women. One night he witnesses white police brutalizing Mu-Mu, a young black militant, and is radicalized from his complacency to violence. The rest of the film chronicles his adventures as he flees from and constantly outwits the white authorities.
The film's surreal, stream-of-consciousness cinematography and disjointed editing vividly capture the fragmentation of Sweetback's flight. Mario Van Peebles's film, Baadasssss, premiering at the Festival, offers new insights into his father's filmmaking process.

— Barbara Bannon

Screening Details

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