In his new film Baadasssss! (out this week on DVD), director Mario Van Peebles (New Jack City) explores his father Melvin's real-life struggle to make the 1971 flick Sweet Sweetback's Baad Asssss Song. Back in the day, his dad's movie was right on the cutting edge of the blaxploitation trend and the upcoming indie-filmmaking boom. Here, Van Peebles (who not only directs, but also plays his father in Baadasssss!) gives TV Guide Online the lowdown on the current state of soul cinema and how one person did make a difference.
TV Guide Online: This film really shows how your dad fought to do things his way in the '70s.
Mario Van Peebles: Yeah, my father insisted on having a multiracial crew. At that time, the unions were mostly all white and male. People were saying, "We shall overcome one day," but my dad was saying, "We shall overcome right now!" My father was mad at "isms" — racism, sexism and ageism, but he was never mad at people.
TVGO: Your complex relationship with your father is also shown in the film. Did you two get along?
Van Peebles: I didn't always like my dad, but I always respected him. If he had not cleared the trail, I wouldn't have been able to make my movie. My dad made me realize one person can make a difference.
TVGO: What do you think of the current state of equality in cinema?
Van Peebles: We opened in theaters the same week as Soul Plane. The New York Times pointed out how that film says that people of color running an airline is a joke, while Baadasssss! is saying that it is possible for people of all colors to come together and make a film.
TVGO: Did you like Soul Plane?
Van Peebles: It's not that we shouldn't have movies like Soul Plane, but we need people of color in a Lost in Translation. If white folks were only represented by Dumb and Dumber, they wouldn't be pleased. America is more comfortable with black people who are funny. Jamie Foxx started out in comedies, but slowly, as people realize he's a good guy, it becomes alright to move to drama....
TVGO: You're playing your father in the film. Did you ever act like him off camera?
Van Peebles: One day on the film, a camera broke and we finally got it working, but we were losing the light for a great shot. I heard myself yelling to the cast, "Come on, let's get this done. Time is money, and this is not a hobby, it's a business." It was my dad's voice, but coming out of me! [Laughs]
TVGO: What did your dad think of the film?
Van Peebles: He said the movie was like Seabiscuit on two legs — it's the impossible dream and what makes it more incredible is it's all true.