i thought i wrote about this last week, but the ticket stub lying on my night stand reminds me otherwise. the last film i went to see at the film festival was BAADASSSS!! i mean it was bad ass, but that was actually the name of the film. really. like pretty much everything i go to see, i didn’t know exactly what i was getting into until the show started, but i’m glad i went. what the film really is: mario van peebles made a drama, a re-enactment actually, of his dad making sweet sweetback’s baadasss song. the movie was great. really.

the gist of the show is that melvin van peebles basically had to produce and make the movie himself. the studios turned him down because they couldn’t see why people would go see black people in a dramatic movie. in the movie the studio execs kept saying “make it funny.” melvin refused. he made a serious, successful movie with some pretty graphic scenes (at least for a 1971 movie with no stunt people). It sold more tickets than any other movie that year. then, as usual, it was coopted by the studios, only they got the formula wrong, but created the whole genre of blacksplotation in the process, which is pretty important in itself.

after the early 70’s came another 10-15 year period of blacks as comic relief- richard pryor and eddie murphy as the most obvious examples. in the late 80’s spike lee launched another spurt of serious black film making. other film makers joined in and we enjoyed a number of thought provoking films until the mid 90s. While there are still serious films coming from black directors and actors, i can’t help but feel that some old farts at the studios are still saying “you better make that black man funny.” It seems the number of films like big momma’s house or the soon to be released “white chicks” are outnumbering the serious films by a significant margin.

i don’t believe that BAADASSS!! can turn the industry back around single handedly, but i hope it gives hope and encouragement to all those film makers who have a point to make.


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