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Flashback To 1971 - Discord Over "Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song"

by Tambay A. Obenson
March 22, 2012 9:50 AM
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Melvin Van Peebles will hit one of those milestone birthdays this year; the man will turn 80 years old on August 21st!

We'll have to do something in his honor when that time comes; I'll start working on getting our first interview with the man leading up to that.

But in the meantime... a flashback...

Quite possibly one of the most polarizing black films ever made... Melvin Van Peebles' 1971 film Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, with the intellectual and ideological fissure happening especially across class lines within the black community at the time; and that disunity played out on the public stage, exemplified by Huey P. Newton's devoting an entire issue of The Black Panther to the film's revolutionary implications (He Won't Bleed Me: A Revolutionary Analysis of 'Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song); and then Lerone Bennet's scathing take-down of the film in the September 1971 issue of what Ed Guerrero called the then "principal organ of the black bourgeoisie," Ebony magazine, titled The Emancipation Orgasm: Sweetback In Wonderland.

I wanted to post both pieces here, but I couldn't locate Newton's online (if anyone can, let me know). I did find Bennet's Ebony critique, which isn't solely a lambasting of Van Peebles' film, but also calls for more discussion that would lead to a clearly defined "black aesthetic;" discussions that are still relevant today, 40 years later. 

Click the image below to go to the full essay; trust me, it's worth a read. 

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  • Yvonna Russell | March 22, 2012 8:47 PMReply

    Huey P. Newton's commentary on " Sweet Sweetback's Baaaadasss Song" can be found in his book, "To Die for the People".

  • Neziah | March 22, 2012 2:32 PMReply

    It's a badass flick!

  • Monique A. Williams | March 22, 2012 11:38 AMReply

    Fantastic piece. The analysis of Blackness is thought-provoking. Funny how 40 years later, it still resonates. Funny and sad.

    And Sweet Sweetback's Badasss Song is still the absolute worst movie I've ever seen. Disgusting!

  • Donella | March 24, 2012 3:31 PM

    I agree. Mario Van Peebles looked like he was ten or twelve in bed with a hooker. I had to look away. The Spook Who Sat by the Door is the better film.

  • Laura | March 22, 2012 4:17 PM

    I concur. As a young "revolutionary" sistah I told myself I was suppose to like the film. I knew I was going to have problems it when I saw a very young Mario Van Peebles in a sex scene with an older woman. I tried for another 20 minutes. I couldn't. I just couldn't. I turned that shit off and put on A Clockwork Orange. The Spook who Sat by the Door was way, way, way better(even though I had some issues as how sisters were portrayed.) Now that I am older, I can say with totally over my revolutionary fervor . Only thing I can say about the film is that --I would not inflict that film on anyone.

  • getthesenets | March 22, 2012 10:28 AMReply

    In the meantime, rent or purchase his son's "Badassss" dvd....the dvd extras alone are worth the price.

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