Melvin Van Peebles stunned the world for the first time, with his debut feature, The Story of a Three Day Pass. Filmed in France and selected as the French entry in the San Francisco Film Festival, Melvin's film was awarded the top prize. Saying it was controversial would be an understatement. In 1968 for a black man to walk up to the podium and accept the top festival award for a film he had to go abroad to make--now that's how you make your mark. After his comedy, Watermelon Man, Melvin was determined to push the Hollywood boundaries with the groundbreaking, and even more controversial, Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song. Turned down by every major studio including Columbia, where he had a three-picture deal, Melvin was forced to basically self-finance. Risking everything he had Melvin delivered to the world the first Black Ghetto hero on the big screen--whether they were ready or not! More than 30 years later, history is being fashioned again in the telling of this very tale. Mario ... Written by
Sujit R. Varma
When Melvin glances at his checkbook just before visiting Bill Cosby to request a $50,000 production loan, the Bank of America logo on the check is the current version introduced in 1998. See more »
Melvin Van Peebles:
Is this something negative, Priscilla? Because if it's negative, I can't even deal with it right now. I'm a broke, pissed off nigger from Chicago, and I'm down to my last cigar.
See more »
Real-life participants of the production of "Sweet Sweetback's..." give testimony during the closing credits, including Earth, Wind & Fire founding member Maurice White, who confirmed the "bounced check" story. Melvin Van Peebles himself appears onscreen when the credits finish. See more »
Up & Down
Performed by Niki J. Crawford
New Dog Old Trix Publishing, Country Girl Entertainment
Written by (c) Adam Hirsh, Niki J. Crawford
Courtesy of Treehouse Music Inc., Country Girl Entertainment See more »
Ever wonder what it would be like to make your own film without a studio to support you and no money in the bank to fund it. Well, thankfully Mario Van Peebles' father forged ahead in the 70s with a dream and passion like no other. While Hollywood was content with making pictures that negatively depicted African Americans, Melvin Van Peebles decided to break this cultural norm and change the face of cinema.
With no budget, money from friends and drug dealers, and a non-union crew, Melvin created the impossible. He grabbed a hold of an idea and let nothing get in the way from accomplishing it. Melvin had a dream of making an African American the center of the film, one that took no sass from anyone and criticized the modern white Government. While big studios backed away from this project, Melvin jumped forward made Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song. There were trial and tribulations to get it done, but thanks to a very surprising source the film became a success. It was the first independent film to become the number one film in America.
Similar to the passion seen in Melvin's eyes when he is making his low-budget film, Mario portrays that exact same involvement when making this low-budget film. What I loved about this film is that there is so much raw, unbridled emotion behind Mario's eyes that you can tell that he 1) loves his Dad and 2) wanted to show America the truth behind this innovator's life. This is Mario's past, and he superbly reenacts it on screen. He carries this film, showing us the many facets of his father. He shows the angry American, the independent talent, the powerful leader, and even the emotional parent. Through all of this Mario continues to keep this film focused and interesting. We cannot keep our eyes off his portrayal of his father. I would not be surprised if he is nominated for an Oscar this year.
Finally, this is a very powerful film that speaks about a side of Hollywood that is less known. It shows how the boundaries of racism can be broken with imagination and persistence. It shows that 'all men are created equal' and that if you have a dream you should pursue it. If you are in the process of making your own film and need a movie that will inspire and motivate, this would be the film to watch. From the moment I put this film in my DVD player, I was glued. What a powerful story coupled with interesting actors (Adam West and Sally Struthers) and told with a very realistic voice.
I highly recommend this film.
Grade: **** out of *****
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