American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
I want to show all the faces that Norman Rockwell never painted. -- Melvin Van Peebles
It would be nice if movies were always made the way they are in Truffaut's "Day for Night," with idealism and romance, or Minnelli's "The Bad and the Beautiful," with glamor and intrigue. But sometimes they are made the way they are in Mario Van Peebles' "Baadasssss!" -- with desperation, deception and cunning. Here is one of the best movies I've seen about the making of a movie -- a fictionalized eyewitness account by Mario of how and why his father, Melvin Van Peebles, made "Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song," a landmark in the birth of African-American cinema.
The original 1971 movie was scruffy and raw, the story of a man born in a brothel and initiated to sex at the age of 12, who grows up as an urban survivor, attacks two racist cops and eludes capture. That Sweetback got away with it electrified the movie's first audiences, who were intrigued by ad lines like "Rated X by an All-White Jury." Although it was not an exploitation film, it was credited by Variety with creating "blaxploitation," a genre that gave us Pam Grier, Shaft, Superfly and a generation of black filmmakers who moved into the mainstream.
That a big-budget action film is unthinkable today without a black co-star is a direct consequence of Melvin Van Peebles' $150,000 fly-by-night movie. "Sweet Sweetback" did astonishing business, proving that a viable market existed for movies made by, for and about blacks. When the movie opened at the Oriental Theatre in Chicago, the marquee proclaimed: "The Oriental is Yo-riental Now!"