Studio blaxploitation flicks like ”Shaft” and ”Superfly” wouldn’t exist without writer-director-producer-star Melvin Van Peebles’ 1971 ghetto-hero indie hit, ”Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song.” Melvin’s son Mario thought it was time somebody paid cinematic homage to the hell his dad went through to make the movie (including temporary blindness from exhaustion). So using his father’s 1971 making-of book as a framework and heeding executive producer Michael Mann’s advice not to delegate, Mario set out to produce, write, direct, plus star as his own papa on a $1 million budget.
”My dad said, ‘Don’t make me too nice,”’ reports the junior Van Peebles, who didn’t get any family freebies: He had to pay $2,500 for clips from the original ”Sweetback,” as well as pay for option rights. Fortunately the cast worked cheap, including T.K. Carter as Bill Cosby (who helped finance ”Sweetback”). There are also cameos by Sally Struthers, John Singleton, and Adam West — yes, TV’s Batman, playing a gay wannabe producer who comes on to Melvin. ”There are people who want to be part of a film if it’s got nutritional value,” says the director-star. ”It’s not always about the money.”
THE GOOD NEWS Toronto and Sundance audiences generally liked the flick, which was originally titled ”How to Get the Man’s Foot Outta Your Ass and Other Life Lessons” (shortened mainly because the MPAA wouldn’t approve plain old, normally spelled ”ass” in a title).
THE BAD NEWS Sony Pictures Classics has an uphill climb putting assssses in seats for the offbeat movie.