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Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (1971)

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After saving a Black Panther from some racist cops, a black male prostitute goes on the run from "the man" with the help of the ghetto community and some disillusioned Hells Angels.

Director:

Melvin Van Peebles
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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Simon Chuckster ... Beetle
Melvin Van Peebles ... Sweetback
Hubert Scales Hubert Scales ... Mu-Mu
John Dullaghan ... Commissioner
Wesley Gale Wesley Gale ... (as West Gale)
Niva Ruschell Niva Ruschell
Rhetta Hughes Rhetta Hughes ... Old Girl Friend
Nick Ferrari Nick Ferrari
Ed Rue Ed Rue
John Amos ... Biker (as Johnny Amos)
Lavelle Roby
Ted Hayden Ted Hayden
Mario Van Peebles ... Young Sweetback / Kid (as Mario Peebles)
Sonja Dunson Sonja Dunson
Michael Augustus Michael Augustus
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Storyline

Melvin Van Peebles wrote, directed, produced, edited, composed and starred in this powerful and inflammatory attack on White America. After the body of a black man is discovered, Sweetback helps two white 'acquaintances' in the police force to look good by agreeing to go with them to the station as a suspect. But he is forced to go on the run after brutally attacking the two policemen when they arrest and beat up a young black man. Written by David Claydon <dc6212@bristol.ac.uk>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

Rated X by an all white jury See more »

Genres:

Crime | Drama | Thriller

Certificate:

R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

22 March 1973 (Netherlands) See more »

Also Known As:

Sweet Sweetback See more »

Filming Locations:

Los Angeles, California, USA

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Box Office

Budget:

$500,000 (estimated)

Gross USA:

$15,180,000
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Yeah See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Mono

Color:

Color

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Though it only earned $4 million, it was the top-grossing independent movie of 1972. See more »

Goofs

The fire truck that appeared at the end of the car explosion was not originally supposed to appear. Due to a permit still not filed, the fire department was unaware and proceeded to appear unannounced. See more »

Quotes

Beetle: Like you gonna have to kinda lay out, stretch out a little while, be real cool. Kinda lay dead. Ol' Beetle'll let you know what's happenin', what's goin' down. You don't have to worry about nothin'. If you need anything, anything at all, brother, just keep the faith in Beetle, ol' Beetle goin' to bring you through, cause this is just a skirmish. You know how the game goes, baby. But you keep the faith in me and you my man. You my favorite man. Can you dig it, baby? Together, you know, maintain....
See more »

Crazy Credits

Starring The Black Community See more »

Alternate Versions

The 1998 UK video version was passed fully uncut by the BBFC after receiving a written assurance from Melvin Van Peebles that 18 year old Hubert Scales was playing the role of young Sweetback during the opening sex scene. When the film was re-released on DVD in 2005 it had been revealed to the BBFC that the information was false, and that the role had actually been played by then-14 year old Mario Van Peebles. Owing to the Protection of Children Act 1978 the scene had to be cut and 1 minute 9 secs were removed by the distributors, using black imaging to replace the offensive footage. However the edit was insufficient and a further 5 secs of cuts were requested by the BBFC. See more »


Soundtracks

Sweetback's Theme
Written by Melvin Van Peebles
Performed by Melvin Van Peebles featuring Earth Wind & Fire
See more »

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User Reviews

 
A must-see for fans of weirdness!
14 February 2005 | by BrandtSponsellerSee all my reviews

Considered the first blaxploitation film, Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song features Melvin Van Peebles (who also directed, wrote, produced, edited and did music for the film) as Sweetback, a Los Angeles-area "male prostitute"/"sex performer" (who only has relations with females). He agrees to be taken in to a police station as a suspect just to make a couple cops look good (because they are tolerant towards the cathouse he lives in). On the way, they pick up a Black Panther and start beating him senseless. Sweetback bludgeons and stabs the two cops with his handcuffs (one end is open) and the bulk of the film has him on the run. Can he make it to Mexico before he's caught?

Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song has a lot of historical significance. It is an early independent film in what's considered the current "modern" style, it is one of the earliest mostly black films of its era (there were all black films earlier, such as Oscar Micheaux's work, but they disappeared for awhile), it was controversial (it initially earned an X rating (later changed to an R) and touted that fact proudly as a tagline), it was made for $150 thousand but grossed $15 million, and most importantly perhaps for some film lovers, it is credited with starting the blaxploitation craze in the 1970s. It is worth watching for students of film on those merits alone.

But none of those facts alone make it a good film, and none affect my rating. In terms of quality, Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song gets my vaunted 5 out of 10 rating, which is usually reserved for "so bad they're good" films. Although it is loaded with flaws, as one might expect from a low budget film from the era shot guerilla-style on the streets of Los Angeles, it is a hoot to watch. On the weirdness scale, it definitely earns a 10.

Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song is firmly mired in the psychedelic era. Peebles gives us frequent shots with negative or false colors near the beginning of the film. More frequently, he directs scenes so they have various "altered reality" allusions--time stretching, repeating, stopping and stuttering, bizarre actions and reactions from various characters, rambling nonsense, and so on--which for the viewer approximate the perception of someone who is wasted almost to the point of passing out. These scenes often play like some kind of avant-garde performance art, and are as much a focus of the film as any of the usually cited "political" messages rooted in racially oriented turmoil and disparity. Perhaps the intended theme was that race relations, and the urban reality of blacks to that point were as bizarre as acid trips, some good, some bad.

The music is equally bizarre (which I love), with a recurrent jazz/funk piece with an almost atonal saxophone melody being the unifier. Some of the vocal music is a veritable Greek chorus, narrating action and emotions, providing critiques and so on. Peebles also frequently layers musical tracks, so two or more can be playing at once for a minute or two.

The film is also notable and admirable for its abundance of almost graphic sex scenes and gratuitous nudity. The opening scene is particularly groundbreaking and laudable. Throughout the film, Sweetback is an unstoppable stud, with almost any woman he desires dropping her drawers for him, even towards the end of the film, despite the fact that he has an oozing, infected sore running up the side of his body, not to mention that he's filthy, and he's been drinking mud and eating raw lizards. The ladies still find him hot enough to give him a poke in the bushes. We need much more of this kind of material in contemporary films.

At one point, Peebles and/or director of photography Robert Maxwell appear to have hit the streets of Los Angeles, filming people at random after they asked them if they've seen Sweetback (the character). These shots are inserted into the extended chase scene near the end of the film (2/3 to 3/4 of the film is actually an extended chase scene). The effect is a lot of fun to watch--definitely guerilla film-making at its finest.

But the problems with the film are legion. Maxwell's camera frequently goes in and out of focus (being generous, we could interpret it with psychedelic intent, but I'm skeptical). Night scenes (which are thankfully avoided for the most part) tend to be seas of blackness where a viewer can only occasionally make out enough of an image to piece together the scene in their mind. The sound is awful--I couldn't make out about half of the dialogue (at one point I thought "this is more like watching a silent film"), and it doesn't help that some characters "jive talk"; if ever a film needed subtitles, it's this one. The camera occasionally has a spot, a hair, or some other gunk on the lens. There isn't much to the story; after awhile, it starts to play more like an odd music video. A lot of shots--scenery, cityscapes, etc.--look like they may have been randomly taken by Peebles with his home camera with the hopes of one day using them in a film.

Still, for fans of weirdness and "so bad they're good" films, not to mention any blaxploitation fan with his or her weight in barbecued ribs, Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song is a must see. Make sure you also check out How to Get the Man's Foot Outta Your Ass (aka Baadasssss!), Peebles' son Mario's 2003 film about Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song.


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