Melvin Van Peebles (1932–2021)
Screening Dates
New Restoration

The granddaddy of blaxploitation … This sulphurous nightmare of racial paranoia and revenge eclipses even Reservoir Dogs in evoking a world of infinite seaminess, injustice, and cruelty.”

Stephen Holden, New York Times

Rated X by an all-White jury,” declared posters for Melvin Van Peebles’s badass 1971 feature, a landmark of African-American independent filmmaking—and, with Gordon Parks’s Shaft, released the same year, a work that launched the transformative blaxploitation movement. Van Peebles—the film’s director, writer, producer, editor, composer, and star—plays brothel-raised sex stud Sweetback, who decides to take on The Man after he witnesses two corrupt White cops beating up a Black activist. The film, incendiary and uncompromising, employs avant-garde and art-house techniques in its rendering of an hallucinogenic world of violence, distrust, and racism. There’s also more than a little raunch! Black Panther Party co-founder Huey P. Newton praised Sweet Sweetback as the first truly revolutionary Black film.” Van Peebles’s soundtrack is performed by Earth, Wind & Fire, who had formed the year before. 

Advisory: Contains disturbing sexual content, graphic violence, and racial slurs.

A shrewd and powerful mix of commercial ingredients and ideological intent … Few of [its imitators] shared Van Peebles’s startling originality and fierce attack.”

Dave Kehr, Chicago Reader

A cinematic fusillade …Peebles turns his film’s exploitation elements into a political weapon … Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song still retains its shock value.”

Clayton Dillard, Slant
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