Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song

Landmark classic of black cinema and independent filmmaking, following a street hustler who goes on the run after fighting back against two racist cops.

Conceived and directed by its star, Melvin Van Peebles, Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971) is a controversial and landmark classic of Black Cinema and independent filmmaking. It was the highest grossing indie of 1971 (out-performing Love Story) and is justly credited with kick-starting the Blaxploitation genre. Over 30 years after its release, Melvin’s son Mario Van Peebles re-told the story of its making in Baadasssss! (2003).

In 1971, when most scripts portrayed African Americans as helpless slaves or ‘super-Negroes’, Melvin pitched to Hollywood a celebration of urban black power – the story of a black street hustler turned revolutionary who goes on the run after killing two racist cops. Hollywood wasn’t ready, but Melvin wasn’t in the mood to give up easily. Working on a shoestring budget, he shot the film in 19 days. In order to secure a multi-ethnic crew and dodge the all-white unions, he disguised the production as a porn flick. He persuaded a young band looking for a break, Earth, Wind & Fire, to record a soundtrack.

Street hustler Sweetback, the film’s star, has learned the ways of the world through being brought up in a brothel and earned his name through his legendary sexual prowess, cementing his reputation night after night to an audience of hopheads and hipsters hungry for spectacle. One night on a routine cover-up job with two crooked cops, Sweetback watches a young black man get beaten within an inch of his life and decides to fight back. His actions set in motion a journey through the dark heart of 1970s urban America, encountering motorcycle gangs, Black Power militants, fascist public officials and a torrent of insatiable women every step of the way.

The film has a distinctive gritty style in keeping with the independent spirit of the times, combining the streetwise realism of Paul Morrissey with the sexual hysteria of Russ Meyer. A brash depiction of urban African American life previously unseen on the screen, its political resonance was confirmed in the Black Panthers’ vocal acclaim of the film as a ‘revolutionary masterpiece.’ It sparked the birth of independent Black Cinema and has been cited as inspiration by directors such as Spike Lee and Quentin Tarantino.

NB – In order to comply with UK law (the Protection of Children Act 1978), a number of images in the opening sequence of the film have been obscured.

Special features

  • The Real Deal - 30 mins documentary on Melvin Van Peebles’ life as a film-maker
  • Biography of Melvin Van Peebles
  • Booklet with film notes by Kodwo Eshun and two essays

Product information

    • Certificate

      18

    • Colour

      Colour

    • Sound

      Sound

    • Running time

      97mins

    • Languages

      English

    • Subtitles

      English for the hearing impaired

    • Original aspect ratio

      1.33:1

    • DVD region

      • 2 Europe (except Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus), Middle East, Egypt, Japan, South Africa, Swaziland, Lesotho, Greenland, French Overseas departments and territories

    • Catalogue number

      BFIVD712

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