Melvin Van Peebles
In the early 1970s, Melvin Van Peebles was a young African-American man who made a movie dedicated to "All the Brothers and Sisters who had enough of the man." The film was Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, and it put black cinema on the map. It did not come easy. Van Peebles wrote, directed, co-produced, scored, edited-and starred-in his most famous movie. Not only that, no Hollywood studio would risk backing a film with an all-black cast and director, so Van Peebles financed himself.
Van Peebles says he was not so much inspired to make films as disgusted. He was disgusted to not see black people represented on film like those he knew-those who did not fit black stereotypes.
Now 75, Van Peebles still has a lot to say. He observes some of the ironies of aging for an African-American male. "Now I can go places without the frightened look in people's eyes."
"Little old ladies used to pull their purses close to them when you'd walk by," he says in describing his experiences. "Now they smile."
Van Peebles says that the African-American male is always viewed as a threat in his "virility stage," as he puts it. That's that time of life between being a harmless boy and not yet a harmless old man. Growing up in the 1940s and '50s, African-American males had one of two titles in those days."'Boy' was when you were a kid, and when you got old, 'uncle'," Van Peebles says. "They'd never call you a man."
"It's all how you look at stuff," Van Peebles says. "And America gives you a lot of stuff to look at."