Melvin Van Peebles A-Z

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Melvin Van Peebles, Sweetback Poster

While Melvin Van Peebles is best known as a filmmaker—and for the legendary 1971 picture Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song—movies are just a small part of his professional and creative life. He’s also been a trailblazing musician, playwright, novelist (having written five books in French, no less), Air Force pilot, Wall Street trader and more—all of which is recounted in the film How to Eat Your Watermelon in White Company (and Enjoy It). (Read the film’s synopsis. )

If there’s one thing that unites Melvin’s many and diverse pursuits, however, it’s a burning desire to level the playing field. His ethos is best described in a statement from Melvin Van Peebles’ Classified X, a documentary that examined the representation of African-Americans in American cinema. “The very first thing we must do is reconquer our own minds. The biggest obstacle to the Black revolution in America is our conditional susceptibility to the white man’s program. In short, the fact is that the white man has colonized our minds. We’ve been violated, confused and drained by this colonization and from this brutal, calculated genocide. The most effective and vicious racism has grown, and it is with this starting point in mind and the intention to reverse the process that I went into cinema in the first fucking place.”

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