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Baadasssss! | Review

True stories from the Indie world

Blood, sweat, money and tears makes for an eye-opening exploration of the filmmaking process.

If film characters from the likes of Will Smith and Denzel win it all at the end of the day it’s in due part to Malcolm X and the civil rights movement — but one groundbreaking film in 1971 dramatically altered the representation found on a celluloid image. Before the likes of Shaft, Foxy Brown there was this one film that cast the first stone and broke the ugly stereotypes that Hollywood created.

Flash forward a couple of generations and the son of the godfather who started the blaxploitation film movement revisits the painstaking, excruciating filmmaking process that his father had to undergo, and in he same occasion, digs up his own uncomfortable childhood memories that are tied with the making of Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss. Mario Van Peebles –- (a name perhaps familiar with B action films) plays a pissed off black man who had to have one giantantic set of balls to go against the Hollywood way of making movies. The man he portrays is his father Melvin Van Peebles.

Essentially, Baadassss! chronicles the entire filmmaking process — giving the entire mind numbing and eye-blinding experience of what it means to make a film during the politically fragile era.

Starting off as a simple idea and not much else, this is an autobiographical tribute to his father complete with all of his father’s imperfections. In his worn-out jean jacket and chewed-off cigars, and toting a visionary, desperate stance, Mario plays Melvin and accounts how the black communities (a.k.a. African Americans) were tired of getting the short end of the stick. The film provides the story behind the story — incorporating both the militant optimistic attitude his father had in order to survive and imposes the very personal, inflinged, bad childhood memories that co-exist with this cinematic revolution. This shows more than how film gets made on a shoestring budget, but also sets out to depict the rough learning the ropes in this playground of life.

Similar to the perils of filmmaking Lost in la Mancha, Peebles opens up a suitcase of treasures and provides the kind of insight into a movement which is rarely acknowledged for its maverick manners. Peebles uses a visual kinetic font that emulates the one his father used in his original film – it provides the film with a raw, low budget appeal that brings the viewer back one step into time. This aesthetic captures the frantic energy and the inserted shots of Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss creates a crepe that is filled yummy nostalgia. Peebles also delivers the film with an interesting mix of comedy,- a couple of funny spots breaks the tension which digs deep into the emotional side of the creative process. The added, annoying, faux-documentary testimonials that are inserted throughout the pic actually serve a purpose in the end with the final credits.

For film history buffs, a film like Baadassss! is a delightful opportunity to revisit the true hard fought wars and grit-filled determination that it takes to deliver a message in such an art form. While the film does stand a slight bit too long, Peebles’ performance is easily one of his best and will certainly be a good poster boy for a film that will certainly find a nice niche audience among the arthouse circuit.

Reviewed by Ismail Bouafia

Rating 4 stars

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Eric Lavallée is the founder, CEO, editor-in-chief, film journalist and critic at (founded in 2000). Eric is a regular at Sundance, Cannes and TIFF. He has a BFA in Film Studies at the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. In 2013 he served as a Narrative Competition Jury Member at the SXSW Film Festival. He was an associate producer on Mark Jackson's This Teacher (2018 LA Film Festival, 2018 BFI London). In 2022 he served as a New Flesh Comp for Best First Feature at the 2022 Fantasia Intl. Film Festival. Current top films for 2022 include Tár (Todd Field), All That Breathes (Shaunak Sen), Aftersun (Charlotte Wells).

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