Happy 80th birthday to Melvin Van Peebles – one of those milestone birthdays, for a man who directed, quite possibly, one of the most polarizing black films ever made, the 1971 film Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, with the intellectual and ideological fissure happening especially across class lines within the black community at the time.
And that disunity played out on the public stage, exemplified by Huey P. Newton's devoting an entire issue of The Black Panther to the film's revolutionary implications (He Won't Bleed Me: A Revolutionary Analysis of 'Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song); and then Lerone Bennet's scathing take-down of the film in the September 1971 issue of what Ed Guerrero called the then "principal organ of the black bourgeoisie," Ebony magazine, titled The Emancipation Orgasm: Sweetback In Wonderland.
You've all heard of the film I'm sure. If not, what the hell? Especially if you're over 21 years old.
It practically jump-started the whole Blaxploitation period of cinema (even though that certainly wasn't his intent with his film).
In consideration of his birthday, I had the opportunity to spend some time with Mr Van Peebles a few months ago, which lead to a piece I wrote a few weeks ago titled A Glimpse Into The Extraordinary Life That Belongs To Melvin Van Peebles. If you missed that post, you should read it HERE.
Also worth noting, TONIGHT, at 7:30pm, the legendary Melvin Van Peebles will celebrate his 80th birthday with a surprise-filled tribute at Film Forum in NYC.
Just call him a renaissance man – from an Air Force pilot, cable car gripman, novelist (author of five books… in French!), painter, sculptor, twice-Tony-nominated Broadway playwright, Wall Street trader, and more; he's been and done it all in his 80 years on this planet, and is seemingly still going strong.
At tonight's event, Mr Van Peebles will be interviewed onstage by filmmaker Joe Angio, director of How to Eat Your Watermelon in White Company (and Enjoy It), the 2005 documentary on Van Peebles, in an evening interspersed with film clips and guaranteed surprises.
He will also perform his own band, Wid Laxative.
Admission to this special event is $12.50, $7 for Film Forum members.
However, I doubt that there are any tickets left. When we alerted you to this 10 days ago, you should have jumped on the opportunity then!
Up next for the man, keep your antennae up for a potential Broadway run of Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song – A Hood Opera in the next year or so, with preparations being made for that to become a reality. As I was told, the plan is to premiere in New York in 2013.
And look for him in Tina Gordon Chism's feature directorial debut, We The Peeples, produced by Stephanie Allain. It's scheduled to be out in the spring of next year.
Happy 80th birthday Melvin Van Peebles!