DirectorMario Van Peebles Story byMelvin Van Peebles CountryUnited States
Release dateSeptember 7, 2003 (2003-09-07) (Toronto International Film Festival)
May 28, 2004 (2004-05-28) WriterMelvin Van Peebles (book), Mario Van Peebles (screenplay), Dennis Haggerty (screenplay) ProducersMario Van Peebles, Michael Mann, Bruce Wayne Gillies, Tobie Haggerty CastMario Van Peebles (Mario Van Peebles), Joy Bryant (Priscilla), Khleo Thomas (Mario), T. K. Carter (Bill Cosby), Terry Crews (Big T), Ossie Davis (Granddad) Similar moviesRelated Mario Van Peebles movies
TaglineA Father - A Son - A Revolution
Director Mario Van Peebles chronicles the complicated production of his father Melvins classic 1971 film, "Sweet Sweetbacks Baadasssss Song." Playing his father in the film, Van Peebles offers an unapologetic account of Melvins brash and sometimes deceptive conduct on the set of the film, including questionable antics like writing bad checks, tricking a local fire department and allowing his son, Mario, to shoot racy sex scenes at the age of 11.
Baadasssss! is a 2003 American biopic, written, produced, directed by, and starring Mario Van Peebles. The film is based on the struggles of Van Peebles father Melvin Van Peebles (played by Mario himself), as he attempts to film and distribute Sweet Sweetbacks Baadasssss Song, a film that was widely credited with showing Hollywood that a viable African-American audience existed, and thus influencing the creation of the Blaxploitation genre. The film also stars Joy Bryant, Nia Long, Ossie Davis, Paul Rodriguez, Rainn Wilson, and Terry Crews.
Director Mario Van Peebles chronicles the complicated production of his father Melvin's classic 1971 film, "Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song." Playing his father in the film, Van Peebles offers an unapologetic account of Melvin's brash and sometimes deceptive conduct on the set of the film, including questionable antics like writing bad checks, tricking a local fire department and allowing his son, Mario, to shoot racy sex scenes at the age of 11.
Mario Van Peebles – Melvin Van Peebles – Melvin (played by his real-life son, Mario), has recently found success with his movie Watermelon Man. Although hes offered a three-picture contract by Columbia Pictures, Melvin is pushed by his agent, Howie Kaufman, to follow up with a comedy. Disgusted by the mainstream film portrayal of African-Americans as either villains or comic relief, Melvin decides to make a film with "ghetto realism" to portray the black community as he knows it. This is underscored in the opening credits of Sweet Sweetbacks Baadasssss Song, with the line "Starring: The Black Community". The movie follows Melvin through all the trials and tribulations he faces in his effort to bring his message and movie to the big screen.
Adam West – Bert – One of the first investors Melvin visits to finance his film. Melvin manages to get a meeting with this man through his friend Bill. The meeting at Berts beach house goes well at first, with Bert commenting that Melvins stubbornness is much like his own. Bert also marks it as an attribute that shows Melvin is different, with a vision that he will not compromise for the sake of following the status quo. Later on, though, Melvin decides not to go through with the business partnership when Bert uncovers himself and comes on to Melvin, inviting him to swim together.
David Alan Grier – Clyde Houston – Melvin, at first, has no idea how he will be able to produce his film without being shut down. Upon passing an adult theatre, he comes up with the idea to disguise the movie as a black porno, thereby enabling it to pass any scrutiny that would keep it from production. Sitting in on a movie, Melvin notices the name "Clyde Houston" repeatedly appears in the credits. Seeking him out, Melvin hires Clyde, another African-American in the film industry, to be his production manager. Later on in the production of the movie, though, due to mounting stress, Melvin ends up firing Clyde.
Glenn Plummer – Angry Brother – At the casting call for the leading role of Sweetback, this character shows up and delivers the line with a major stutter. Although he is mocked by the others that have shown up for the part, Melvin embraces the mans stutter as "real" and casts him in another role. When the time comes to shoot the scene, though, the actor is shown to have taken speech classes, getting rid of his speech impediment. The situation is easily remedied, though, when Melvin takes the actors gun from him. In his angered and flustered state, his stutter returns and the scene is shot without a problem.
John Singleton – Detroit J
Joy Bryant – Priscilla – Melvins young, ambitious secretary. Every time she enters the room to notify Melvin or give him some important information, she turns it into an audition, promoting herself all the time to play a part in his movie. Although Melvin grants her wish and gives her a role in the movie, she ends up turning down the part because her boyfriend does not approve. Although this proves to be a minor setback, it is Priscilla that recommends her boyfriend, Maurice, to Melvin to get his group Earth, Wind, & Fire, to do the music for the movie.
Karimah Westbrook – Ginnie – Melvin first meets Ginnie at a party hosted by Bill, and they end up sleeping with each other. Although she appears to be a minor character at first, Melvin later calls her to be a part of the movie. After Priscilla quits on him, Melvin is desperate to cast Ginnie in an early scene of the movie. Although she initially believes the movie to be a porno, threatening to leave the set and throwing another obstacle in Melvins path, Melvin manages to convince her of the true purpose of his film, to create a movie that portrays blacks with an eye to reality instead of in a continually subservient role. After being convinced, along with some money up front, Ginnie is convinced to star in the movie.
Khalil Kain – Maurice – Priscillas boyfriend, and a member of the (at-the-time) young group Earth, Wind, & Fire. His initial action in the movie is to restrict Priscilla from acting in the movie, but he, with his group, later create the soundtrack of the film with Melvin. Their production is spurred on by the $500 check Melvin cuts them, even though they it ends up bouncing when they try cashing it.
Khleo Thomas – Mario – Khleo plays Mario Van Peebles as a child.
Len Lesser – Manny Goldberg/Mort Goldberg – The twin owners of one of two theaters that picks up Sweet Sweetbacks Baadasssss Song, they first plan to show it between two other films as part of a triple-feature. Melvin, wanting to impress upon them the importance of the film, wagers two tailored suits in order to get them to show the movie by itself. Although this move may be seen as one of either supreme confidence or supreme desperation, it pays off, as the film garners much more attendance and revenue for the owners than they previously had.
Nia Long – Sandra – Melvins girlfriend, she helps him manage his children throughout the production of the movie. Although she has not grown up with such a clear view of the oppression faced by African-Americans of the time, she is extremely supportive of Melvins undertaking.
Ossie Davis – Granddad – Shown to be a gruff figure in the movie, he too helps Melvin take care of his children and also plays a minor role in the film.
Paul Rodriguez – Jose Garcia – As a Puerto Rican cameraman, Jose acts as a symbol of the unifying nature of not just the film, but its creation as well.
Penny Bae Bridges – Megan – Along with Khleo, Penny plays one of Melvins children, acting in a minor role in the film.
Rainn Wilson – Bill Harris – Melvins friend, Bill tries but fails to acquire financial backing for the creation of the film. Even though the film ends up being independently financed by Melvin himself, with the help of Bill Cosby, Bill stays on the crew to help with the production of the movie.
Saul Rubinek – Howard "Howie" Kaufman – Melvins agent, Howie pushes Melvin to sign a contract with Columbia Pictures. Although Melvin does not end up doing so, Howie helps Melvin post-production in finding distributors for the film. Although Howie is his agent, he is far from being solely after money, as evidenced by the close relationship he has with Melvins kids.
Terry Crews – Big T – A crew member that acts as sound assistant and security for the crew, Big T ends up being part of the group that is arrested by the cops for alleged theft. Although he almost leaves, threatening Melvin in the process, he is convinced to stay after an impassioned speech by Melvin that shows him the importance of the film to the community.
T.K. Carter – Bill Cosby – Bill Cosby, while not delivering a major number of lines, ends up loaning Melvin $50,000 to finish the movie, with the only stipulation being that he gets his money back. His contribution to the production of the film brings yet more emphasis on the recognized importance of the film by all the cast and crew members involved with its making.
Vincent Schiavelli – Jerry – The man at Cinemation who initially manages to distribute Sweet Sweetbacks Baadasssss Song to two theaters across America.
Wesley Jonathan – Panther – Although he is shown leaving midway through one showing of the movie, he comes back with 22 other members of the Black Panthers. Recognizing the revolutionary film to be of immense cultural substance, he helps bring the crowds to the viewing of the film, even though it stands on its own as opposed to being a part of a greater number of movies.
Various people appear as themselves, including Melvin Van Peebles and Bill Cosby.
The film received mostly postitve reviews, with a 91% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a 75/100 on Metacritic, which correlates to a favorable review. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave it four stars (out of four) and named it one of the best films of the year. It was a commercial failure, however; at the box office, Baadasssss! made a little less than $400,000.
Awards and nominations
2004 Gijon International Film Festival
Best Feature – Mario Van Peebles (nominated)
2004 Philadelphia Film Festival
Best Feature Film – Mario Van Peebles (winner)
2005 Black Reel Awards
Best Actor, Drama – Mario Van Peebles (nominated)
Best Director – Mario Van Pebbles (winner)
Best Film, Drama (nominated)
Best Screenplay, Original or Adapted – Mario Van Peebles (winner)
Best Supporting Actress – Joy Bryant (nominated)
2005 Independent Spirit Awards
Best Director – Mario Van Peebles (nominated)
Best Feature – Mario Van Peebles (nominated)
Best Screenplay – Dennis Haggerty, Mario Van Peebles (nominated)
2005 NAACP Image Awards
Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture – Mario Van Peebles (nominated)
Outstanding Independent or Foreign Film (nominated)
A soundtrack album was released with the label Barely Breaking Even. The track listing is as follows: