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Flashback To 1971 – Discord Over “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song”

Flashback To 1971 - Discord Over "Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song"

Melvin Van Peebles will hit one of those milestone birthdays this year; the man will turn 80 years old on August 21st!

We’ll have to do something in his honor when that time comes; I’ll start working on getting our first interview with the man leading up to that.

But in the meantime… a flashback…

Quite possibly one of the most polarizing black films ever made… Melvin Van Peebles’ 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.

I wanted to post both pieces here, but I couldn’t locate Newton’s online (if anyone can, let me know). I did find Bennet’s Ebony critique, which isn’t solely a lambasting of Van Peebles’ film, but also calls for more discussion that would lead to a clearly defined “black aesthetic;” discussions that are still relevant today, 40 years later. 

Click the image below to go to the full essay; trust me, it’s worth a read. 

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