DVD Pick: Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song
Directed by Melvin Van Peebles. April 1971, USA. Rated X: 97 min.
(Originally published in buzz magazine on 5/15/2009)
If you’re in the market for some bold and edgy cinema, I highly suggest that you check out Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song. Melvin Van Peebles’ low-budget breakthrough paved the way for the whole boatload of Blaxploitation movies that followed in the 1970s.
The film follows the escape of the title character, a sex show performer turned fugitive from the law after using deadly force to prevent policemen from beating a Black Panther. No longer can he just stand and watch as a man receives punishment just for being Black and dissatisfied with American race relations. But now to live, he must run, and so he does – through streets, through alleys, and through desert. Warning: Don’t rent this expecting something like Shaft (1971). While both movies feature amazing funk soundtracks and present empowered Black heroes of the silver screen, the similarities almost end there. Sweetback is a truly avant-garde, indie effort, complete with grainy, underexposed footage, very mobile and jerky camerawork, color inversion, quick zooms, double-takes, long takes, abrupt cuts, and all manners of defiance toward the typical filmmaking standards. Its stylistic experimentation and its unabashed political dissent are what make Sweetback so Baadasssss.