Baadasssss! (2003)

baadasssss poster 2003 movie
8.0 Overall Score
Story: 8/10
Acting: 8/10
Visuals: 7/10

Chronicles an important time in filmmaking

The documentary aspect doesn't always work

Movie Info

Movie Name: Baadasssss!

Studio: Bad Aaas Cinema

Genre(s): Drama

Release Date(s):  September 7, 2003 (Toronto International Film Festival)/May 28, 2004 (US)

MPAA Rating: R

baadasssss mario van peebles melvin theater

I’m being haunted by Sweetback?

After the success of his movie Watermelon Man, Melvin Van Peebles (Mario Van Peebles) rejects the offer to make more movies to appeal to a White audience and decides to make movies for Black viewers.  With a multicultural crew, Melvin is out to make an ode to the Black Community and a movie that depicts life for the people he wants to see it.  Unfortunately, Hollywood has other ideas of what Black audiences should watch.  Melvin and his partner Bill Harris (Rainn Wilson) decide to go ahead and make Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song without the backing of Hollywood…but with no money and few backers, the dream might fall flat.

Written, produced, and directed by Mario Van Peebles (with additional writing by Dennis Haggerty and Melvin Van Peebles), Baadasssss! is a biographic drama.  Based on Melvin’s 1971 diary chronicling the making of 1971’s Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, the film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and received positive reviews.

It is interesting watching Baadasssss! in a time when the same problems and questions are arising.  The movie was released in 2003 and tells the struggles of minority filmmakers in a majority White film industry and the attempt to have different voices heard.  The story is set in the early 1970s, but the struggles still represent the 2020s…fifty years apart.

baadasssss mario van peebles editing melvin

Got to strain to make it

There are tons of stories of directors fighting for their vision of their film.  From the beginning of filmmaking, actors and directors butted heads with producers and distributors.  The problem is that struggles for African-American filmmakers continue at a disproportionate level.  While someone like Quentin Tarantino might have to fund and produce a first film like Reservoir Dogs through sketchy measures, he has a better shake at finding a distributor, and in 1971, that wasn’t even an option…the methods and the means might seem selfish and grandiose, but the bigger idea of creating a foundation from which to build from is more important than the individual behavior of Melvin Van Peebles in the film.

The film honestly works because you can’t sit and agree with Melvin’s actions on every turn.  With Mario playing his father, he gets a distance from the character, but it still has that intimacy of a family story.  Mario obviously doesn’t agree with his father’s actions all the time (as portrayed by the actor playing him in the film), and Melvin’s decisions aren’t always the best or right for a kid…but it demonstrates that he’s human, and Mario Van Peebles brings that humanity to the role.

baadasssss sweet sweetbacks detroit theater premiere

Sweetback strikes back!

The movie is a weird blend of faux documentary and faux movie.  The film stylistically is very clean and shiny and then it has to recreate a grimy lower quality film within the film.  The documentary format of the movie doesn’t always work and I don’t know if I necessarily like how that was done…it almost feels like the people in the movie (if alive) should have always played the documentary versions of themselves (kind of like American Splendor or the Charlie Murphy stories on Chappelle’s Show).  It would have been a nice validation throughout the movie that some of the events that couldn’t possibly be real were real by having the real person backing up the story.

Baadasssss! chronicles an interesting period in cinema and an important period.  The odd aspect of movies like Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song is that it really helped lead to a boom of Blaxploitation films which did provide a lot of minority filmmakers and actors a voice that wasn’t previously available…but then it ended up almost collapsing on itself by creating a stereotype (something that Melvin Van Peebles was trying to avoid).  The movie is worth seeking out but it is also important to try to have some background to understand the significance of what Melvin Van Peebles was trying to accomplish…and how he did it Baadasssss!

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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