BAADASSSSS!” The story behind the production of Melvin Van Peebles' landmark film is legendary, full of strife and struggle. This makes it a natural choice for the biopic treatment. What makes “BAADASSSSS!” really special is that it was directed by Mario Van Peebles. As in, Melvin's own son. This gives the film a more personal feeling than you'd expect from most other biopics. The director actually lived through some of the events depicted in “BAADASSSSS!” The film wouldn't get too much attention upon release in 2003 but those who saw it gave rave reviews.
In 1970, Melvin Van Peebles is a success. His comedy, “Watermelon Man,” is a hit. Columbia Pictures has just offered him a three picture deal. The studio is encouraging him to make another comedy. Van Peebles, meanwhile, wants to make a serious film, about a black man fighting against white oppression. About “a street brother gettin' the man's foot outta his ass,” as Melvin puts it. And he wants the black guy to get away at the end. Everyone hates the idea. The studio refuses to produce the script. Van Peebles decides to make the movie totally independently. The producers are sketchy, forcing Melvin to bankroll most of the movie with his own cash. The shooting is guerrilla style. Money is constantly running out. Even after Van Peebles finishes shooting, there's no way for him to know if his confrontational, experimental movie will be a success.
Mario Van Peebles is probably best known as a leading man in B-rated fare like “Rappin'” and “Solo.” Yet he has some solid credits as a director, such as “New Jack City” and “Panther.” In “BAADASSSSS!,” he makes some interesting creative decisions. The movie sometimes functions as an interesting hybrid between documentary and bio film. The narrative frequently cuts away to interviews with the participants in the “Sweetback's” production. What's odd is that these interviews aren't with the actual people but with the actors playing them. This isn't the only potentially meta choice Van Peebles makes. Often, Melvin's self-doubts appear as a version of himself, dressed in dark clothing. This is an interesting way to illustrate the creative mind's relationship with doubt and ambition. Occasionally, the film is peppered with other surreal touches. Such as Melvin seeing a singing child floating above him on the ceiling.
Of course, “Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song” would become a commercial success, reaching the black audiences Van Peebles knew mainstream Hollywood ignored, and birthing a cinematic movement in the process. This does remove some suspense from the final act. Despite some flaws, “BAADASSSSS!” is a pretty great movie about making movies. The cast is extremely good, with Mario doing a great job of playing his own father. The loaded supporting cast includes Crews, David Alan Grier, and Rainn Wilson. (Then again, Bill Cosby shows up at the very end, like some sort of in-retrospect boogeyman.) Van Peebles not only pays homage to what his father accomplished but also makes an interesting artistic statement of his own, showing the internal and external conflicts the creative mind endures. [7/10]
[THE BLAXPLOITATION CHECKLIST: 7 outta 12]
[X] Afros or Sideburns
 Brothels or Pimps
 Churches or Pastors
[X] Funky Soundtrack
 Homophobic Caricatures
[X] Inner-City Setting
 Night Club Act
 Plot Involving Drugs or Organized Crime
[X] Racist Authority Figures
[X] Sticking It to the Man
[X] Sweet Love Makin'
[X] Use of Street Slang