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USA 2004
Directed by
Mario Van Peebles
108 minutes
Rated R

Reviewed by
David Michael Brown
3.5 stars


Mario Van Peebles plays his father, the legendary Melvin Van Peebles, the director of Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, a classic of guerilla film-making which in its day was a trailblazer that showed the much-put-upon black man of urban America fighting back. A dangerous concept in the early 1970s when cinematic racism was rife on the Hollywood agenda; no one would touch the film so Peebles risked his family and life to finance, star in, write, produce and direct it. His son's docu-drama tells the tale of a film that changed a generation, the culture that made it and the filmmaker who risked all to get it made.

"Entertainment wise, this one's a mutherfucker!", says the elder Van Peebles as he desperately tries to sell his film to potential financiers. His raw description perfectly sums up his son's film which is full of colourful characters, funky grooves and outrageous fashions, and which will appeal to a wider audience than the original film which it is main focus.

Baadassss! is funny and enjoyable but isn't afraid to show the darker side of filmmaking (Peebles went to the pornography industry to find his crew after union trouble), the inherent racism that Van Peebles and many other black actors and directors had to deal with in 60s America and his ruthlessness as he fires his desperate staff and forces his thirteen year old son, Mario, to perform a sex scene in the film's opening. It shows a braveness on Mario Van Peebles' part to reveal his father as someone who would stop at nothing to finish his masterpiece.

Van Peebles uses footage from the original film, interviews with the actors in character and the result is an authentic feel. His re-creation of Sweet Sweetback's Baad Asssss Song's major scenes are a joy and show how well the film has been cast, especially the introduction of Earth, Wind and Fire, the unknown group that provided its funky soundtrack, the hallmark of every great blaxploitation film.

Baadassss! is a labour of love and a heart-felt and fitting tribute to the director's father, one of the unsung heroes of independent cinema.




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