Home | Reviews | Exclusive Writings | Great Links | Miscellaneous | FAQ | Contact Us

Baadasssss! /

Rated: R

Starring: Mario Van Peebles, Ossie Davis, David Alan Grier, Nia Long, Paul Rodriguez

Directed by: Mario Van Peebles

Produced by: Mario Van Peebles, Bruce Giles
Written by: Mario Van Peebles
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics


Mario Van Peebles in Sony Pictures Classics' Baadasssss!

Ossie Davis and Mario Van Peebles in Sony Pictures Classics' Baadasssss!
Joy Bryant and Terry Crews in Sony Pictures Classics' Baadasssss!

     The last great movie about making a movie was Bowfinger, a wonderful piece of comic genius, featuring the dynamic teaming of Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy. It has been five years since its release, and cinemagoers can finally flock to Baadasssss! in order to fulfill their needs for such a type of motion picture. This one isn’t nearly as humorous in tone as Bowfinger was, but it’s certainly just as monumental. It is a passionate and flowing exercise about a daring man named Melvin Van Peebles, who was undeniably instrumental to the art of film as a whole, no matter what your thoughts on his movies may be. Baadasssss! is probably of a higher quality than any of its subject’s pictures, but it doesn’t boast such a merit. Written, directed, and acted in by Van Peebles’ son, Mario, it was simply made to showcase how influential the filmmaker really was.

     In all honesty, before seeing Baadasssss!, I had little knowledge concerning Van Peebles. I was aware that he started a revolution in the world of independent cinema, making films with no-name, black actors. However, the ideas that this motion picture will introduce to audiences is much broader. In addition to learning the basics of the legendary writer/director’s life, we begin to understand how his fondness for the art of film impacted his surroundings, particularly his two children. The entire story is fascinating, unraveling in a way that allows us to sympathize for Van Peebles, instead of second-guessing all of the sacrifices he made, in order for his voice to be heard. He is not only a figure for independent moviemakers to cherish, but every African-American, as well. Because of his bond with his father, Mario Van Peebles never allows us to forget this when watching Baadasssss!. His attachment to the man makes for a very carefully constructed biopic of sorts.

     The film focuses on Van Peebles’ breakthrough effort in cinema. After making Watermelon Man, which was distributed by Columbia Pictures, the only way he could have made another movie that was financed by a studio would’ve been if it were a comedy. As his agent said, he’d have to pitch the concept for a new one before Watermelon Man came out (just in case it bombed), in order to ensure his chances of a budget. However, Van Peebles wanted to make a movie about a “real ‘brotha” that was “as serious as cancer.” This movie was Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song. The only way he could do this would be to self-finance his own work, the method in which most all indies are spawned nowadays. However, it has just recently become much easier to “make your own flick” with new types of digital video, using the internet as a means of promotion. Van Peebles had it tough in the 1970’s; his own money was on the line and his vision was all he truly had sight of. Not to mention that when the project was finally completed, after following a strict schedule and much debt was created, marketing was a nightmare. With an X-rating (many would call the film a porno), the movie was only taken in by two theatres in the entire United States (the only ones with African-American owners). Against all odds, though, Van Peebles found success.

     The performances in this motion picture are perhaps its greatest asset. Mario Van Peebles shines, playing his father in a very realistic manner. His work is an intriguing look at how witnessing someone else’s life experiences first hand can translate into a deeper product. Along with an imitation of his father, Van Peebles provides another dimension of emotion to the character. His own feelings about his dad are subtly included in his work, occupying small sections of every mannerism and line of dialogue he carries. In a scene chronicling a time in which Mario was angry with Melvin, he is able to express any past anguish he may have had in his depiction of his old man’s reaction, inversely. As the film progresses, it is almost evident that Mario is, for the first time, discovering the rationality behind some of his father’s actions, which he was not able to fully comprehend as a child. But he thankfully doesn’t clumsily allow realization to overpower the sheer rawness of his work, never straying from honestly and factually representing Melvin.

     While sitting in the theatre and watching Baadasssss!, I drew an interesting parallel between present time and that of Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song. At the first showing of the Melvin Van Peebles’ film, there were only a few people who bought tickets, all of whom walked out before it was finished. The target audience didn’t come to watch the movie until the nighttime showing. In our screening, my dad and I were two of three people in attendance. This is most likely because the neighborhood the particular art-house is located in certainly does not contain any mass of people who would know of Van Peebles’. While I do not believe that former members of The Black Panthers will show up for the seven o’clock showing tonight here, from out of town, both situations represent that all movies must play well with a target audience to garner fame. Had Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song not sold out at the later show on its opening day, this movie would probably not have been made. Instead, the intended group of viewers finally showed up, and spread word of the film to those who wouldn’t have originally even considered seeing it. This is exactly what happened to My Big Fat Greek Wedding two years ago. And despite its ill-probability, I sure hope the same thing happens to this picture. It certainly deserves it.

     Whether Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song was a great film or a crappy one, pornography or brutality, provocative or nonchalant, is insignificant to the effectiveness of this flick. I’m extremely eager to actually sit down and watch the original film for myself, simply to put it into historical context. It is not as important for us to remember the movies on Van Peebles’ resume as it is for us to recognize all of those that he has made possible. Independent films and, especially, films made by black artists, would not be the same today if he hadn’t taken a gamble and self-financed Sweet Sweetback. All Baadasssss! requests of its viewers is to remember the great impact of the man it is based upon, if not it itself. Considering his achievements, this shouldn’t be a hard task in the least.

-Danny, Bucket Reviews (6.12.2004)

Back to Home
The Bucket Review's Rating Scale