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Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song

By Sean Axmaker

Raw, jagged, and explosively angry, Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song is a landmark in American independent cinema. Melvin Van Peebles directed, wrote, produced, edited, scored, and stars as Sweetback, a passive bouncer raised in a brothel. Shot guerrilla style on a starvation budget on the streets of Los Angeles, it's a violent tale of Sweetback's journey from passive acceptance to political awareness and active defiance. He becomes the target of a manhunt when he kills two cops who beat up a young black activist, and he bounces from hideout to hideout before running for the border, all the while getting more booty than Shaft and Superfly put together. The movie was so inflammatory by conservative industry standards that it was "Rated X by an All White Jury," which the ads proudly touted. The unusual mix of agitprop and exploitation is directed in a jagged style that recalls Godard and set to a funky score performed by Earth, Wind & Fire, which Van Peebles intercuts with chanting Greek chorus-like slogans. Released independently, it was a huge hit and effectively spawned the blaxploitation genre, but none of the films that followed ever recaptured the energy, the anger, and the social politics of this breakthrough in independent cinema.

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Buy this VHS movie from! (Click here!)Buy this DVD from! (Click here!)Buy this soundtrack from! (Click here!)Rated XNot on an American Film Institute 100 list

Director: Melvin Van Peebles

Stars: Melvin Van Peebles, Rhetta Hughes, Simon Chuckster, John Amos

Released: April 23, 1971

Availability: DVD VHS CD

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