Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Blaxploitation Week: Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song

Melvin Van Peebles ushered in the blaxploitation genre with the batshit insane Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song. Sweetback tells the story of a male sex performer; people from all over town pay to watch him have sex with women. Sweetback is a stand-up guy, though. He gets in trouble with the law for beating up the white cops that wrongfully beat up a young black man. Sweetback humps his way to freedom in Mexico. The trailer [NSFW, after the jump] does a much better job of explaining it than I do.



Sweetback has about 8 lines throughout the whole movie, but boy, do we see a lot of his butt. The film, starring Melvin Van Peebles, opens with his son Mario Van Peebles having sex with one of the prostitutes where Sweetback works. Little Mario was 10 at the time...you can bet a lot of people were upset about that.

Van Peebles shot his movie on a tiny, tiny budget but came out successful in the end. The MPAA ratings board was horrified by this movie and wanted to give it an X rating. This only gave Van Peebles the fuel he needed to argue that the man wanted to thwart his film, and had t-shirts made up saying "Rated X by an all-white jury". That same slogan is in the corner of the original Sweetback posters. People bought into it, and the movie was huge, X rating be damned.

That isn't to say people didn't have complaints. Vocal Black Panthers argued the movie wasn't political enough, and more conservative black leaders thought it was dirty and one-sided. Film historians really love to try to rescue this movie, insisting that Sweetback is a hero because he uses the one thing was traditionally held up as scary and dangerous to win out in the end: sexuality. They of course say nothing about the prostitutes and their agency, but the sheer ridiculousness makes it easy to just sit back and watch.

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