Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song

A film about a black male prostitute would be considered racy today; that Melvin Van Pebbles created and released such a film in 1971 makes “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song” groundbreaking. The film’s themes of black radical self-sufficiency (up to and including criminal acts, if necessary) in the face of suppression and opposition by the white establishment is credited with directly forming the foundation for the blaxploitation genre. (It was dedicated to “All the Brothers and Sisters who had enough of The Man” [source: PBS].) Because of this, “Time” magazine’s film critic Richard Corliss called “Sweet Sweetback,” “without question or competition, the most influential movie by a black filmmaker [source: Corliss].

In the movie, Sweetback, played by Van Peebles, is a gigolo who has a détente with local police; he’s allowed to operate by allowing them to arrest (and quickly release) him to fill their quotas. On one of these occasions, two officers assault a Black Panther in front of Sweetback, prompting him to murder the police and begin on a path of revenge against the white establishment.

This movie is also noteworthy for the child sex scene explaining Sweetback’s ascension to prostitution, with the young Sweetback played by Van Peeble’s son Mario. Mario Van Peebles later became a director himself, making a biopic chronicling his father’s movie called “Baadasssss!”