Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song
Directed by Melvin Van Peebles
Running time: 97 mins
One of the most important films in the history of African American cinema, Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (1971) was written, produced and scored by its star, Melvin Van Peebles and shot over just 19 days using a tiny, self-funded budget. The film tells us it's dedicated to “all the Brothers and Sisters who had enough of the man” and it follows the story of Sweet Sweetback (Mario Van Peebles), a hustler turned revolutionary who goes on the run after killing two racist cops. Sweetback, an orphan, earned his name from his legendary sexual prowess, and performs in sex shows at the LA brothel where he grew up. One night, a pair of LAPD officers come in on the hunt for a suspect after the murder of a black man and with the permission of his boss, Sweetback is duly arrested. On the way to the station, however, he is joined in the truck by Black Panther Mu-Mu (Hubert Scales) but when Mu-Mu insults officers, he is beaten unconscious. Sweetback retaliates, handcuffs still hanging from his wrists and then goes on the run towards the Mexican border through the dark heart of 1970s America, encountering motorcycle gangs, Black Power militants, fascist public officials as well as a host of conquerable women along the way. The highest grossing independent film of its year, Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song is credited with kickstarting the 'blaxploitation' genre and is a celebration of urban black power at a time when most scripts portrayed African-Americans as disempowered victims. Its gritty style and political subject caused the Black Panthers to name it a 'revolutionary masterpiece” and film director's such as Spike Lee to describe it as the film “that gave us all the answers we needed”. Van Peebles, who performed all of his own stunts for the movie, persuaded the then young band Earth, Wind & Fire to record a soundtrack which was released prior to the film as a way of generating publicity when an advertising budget was out of the question. With its fast-paced jump cuts and montages that were unique to American cinema at the time, and its riposte to the standard Hollywood African American narrative, it deserves its place as a classic of both Black cinema and independent filmmaking.
Reservation is not necessary, but places are limited. Please arrive early to avoid disappointment.