Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song is a 1971 American independent film, written, produced, scored, directed by, and starring Melvin Van Peebles, father of actor Mario Van Peebles (who was also in the movie). It tells the picaresque story of a deprived African American man on his flight from the white authority. Van Peebles began to develop the film after being offered a three-picture contract for Columbia Pictures. Because no studio would finance the film, Van Peebles funded the film himself, shooting it independently over a period of 19 days, performing all of his own stunts and appearing in several unsimulated sex scenes. Van Peebles gained additional funds from applying for worker's compensation after contracting gonorrhea during the shooting of these scenes, and received a $50,000 loan from Bill Cosby to complete the film. The film's fast-paced montages and jump-cuts were unique features in American cinema at the time. The film was censored in some markets, and received mixed critical reviews.
The musical score of Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song was performed by Earth, Wind & Fire. Because Van Peebles did not have any money for traditional advertising methods, he released the soundtrack album in anticipation of the film's release in order to build awareness. Initially, the film was only screened in two theaters in the United States. It went on to gross $4,100,000 at the box office. Huey P. Newton celebrated and welcomed the film's revolutionary implications, and the film became required viewing for members of the Black Panther Party. The film is an important work in the history of African American cinema. It paved the way for the success of future independent black films. According to Variety, it demonstrated to Hollywood that films which portrayed "militant" blacks could be highly profitable, leading to the creation of the blaxploitation genre, although the film itself is not commonly considered to be an exploitation film.