Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song
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Director: Melvin Van Peebles
1971, USA, 97 minutes, R
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Included in MoMA’s permanent collection and considered to be among the most significant features ever by an African-American filmmaker, SWEET SWEETBACK is a brutal and shocking story of survival and is credited as one of the first blaxploitation films.
Director/writer/producer/editor/composer Melvin Van Peebles stars as a black orphan raised in a brothel and groomed to be a sex show performer. Set up by his boss and two corrupt cops for a murder he didn’t commit, Sweetback escapes custody and is thrust into an increasingly hallucinogenic world of violence and bigotry where no one can be trusted, and the possibility of death lurks at every corner…
Featuring a rousing score from a nascent Earth, Wind, & Fire, as well as surrealist visuals from stalwart genre cinematographer Robert Maxwell (THE CANDY SNATCHERS), Van Peebles creates an unforgettable study of perseverance in the face of racism.
“Van Peebles’ celluloid classic shook up the world of cinema much as a brash young pugilist originally known as Cassius Clay had done in the boxing ring some years earlier. The film merged European modernism and the avant-garde with the urgent demands of black power, creating a cinematic document echoing sentiments articulated in the urban streets of 1970s America.”
— Todd Boyd, The Root
Film courtesy of Xenon Pictures, Vinegar Syndrome and the American Genre Film Archive