Simon Chuckster as Beetle
Melvin Van Peebles as Sweetback
Hubert Scales as Mu-Mu
John Dullaghan as Commissioner
Rhetta Hughes as Old Girl Friend
Mario Van Peebles as Kid
After watching Baadasssss!, the original Van Peebles movie may seem like mandatory to anyone who hasn’t seen it, if only to see the results of Van Peebles’ labor or to figure out why it was such an important movie. As a white guy, I may never be able to completely relate to the subject matter, but it’s an interesting study to watch something like this thirty years later to see if the movie and its message stand the test of time.
Sadly, it doesn’t. However you slice it, the original movie just isn’t very good. Sure, it’s groundbreaking in the way that Van Peebles was able to show some of the realities of how black men were treated by the authorities back in the day. His accomplishment at funding and making the movie he wanted to make is also impressive.
The story itself, about a black man framed for murder, is confusing and at times, makes little sense. It’s not helped by the overall bad acting-remember, most of the actors were friends and acquaintances of the director–and the camerawork is barely above the level of Ed Wood. The movie is artier than one might expect from what is essentially a revenge flick, but the hallucination sequences are pretty outlandish.
Sweetback himself, played by Van Peebles, has very few lines in the movies, spending most of the movie either fighting, f*cking or running through the desert. As one might expect from an X-rated movie, there is a lot of nudity and graphic sex, but none of it is particularly titillating. Early in the movie, a disturbing scene shows a young Mario having his virginity being taken by a prostitute, and things go downhill from there.
The soundtrack is some of the earliest recorded work by Earth, Wind and Fire, but as cool as the “Sweetback theme” is, it’s overused and most will be over it by the third or fourth time it’s played.
The movie’s message to fight back against a system that puts you down is a great one and that is the only thing that makes the movie a worthwhile effort. Otherwise, Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song is little more than an oddity, and the younger Van Peebles should be given even more credit for creating a wonderful and memorable movie based on his father’s experience making this painfully bad film.