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Mario Van Peebles

Continued In His Father's Footsteps

He followed his feature film directorial debut New Jack City with Posse in 1993. Posse depicts life in the Wild West from a black perspective. Van Peebles hoped the film would provide audiences the context needed to understand the choices early black Americans made. "Back in 1893 we couldn't rap our way out of the 'hood,' so a lot of us became outlaws," he told Essence.

Van Peebles relishes following in his father's footsteps, telling Jet: "There aren't a lot of second generation filmmakers. I love to see us passing it on.... You see us doing what some of the White families have never even done." In the New York Times Van Peebles publicly thanked his father for being a role model and a source of inspiration: "Thanks to you [Dad], I grew up seeing a black man direct, a black man in charge, so I didn't have a color chip on my shoulder.... It never occurred to me that I couldn't do it because of my color, if I had the talent. Like you said, 'Hollywood isn't as much black and white as it is ultra-green.'" Father and son collaborated on several films, including the co-direction of the 1996 film Gang of Blue about police brutality and corruption.

In 2003, he wrote and produced a film depicting his father's place as a pioneer in the film industry: How to Get the Man's Foot Outta Your Ass, a story of how his father made Sweet Sweetback's Baad Assss in 1973. When Melvin Van Peebles embarked on making Sweet Sweetback's Baad Asssss Song in the early 1970s, he hurtled some of the film industry's most difficult blockades. His intense desire and firm commitment to his vision for the film, weathered near financial ruin, police harassment, racism, and his own failing health. Van Peebles told Interview that his father "changed the dynamic in movies. Prior to Sweetback almost all films with minorities showed them as one-dimensional. And the subtext of that is that if you can reduce a people to one dimension, either cinematically or in the media, you can then make it easier to repress them. With Sweetback you started to see empowered black folks on the screen...." Van Peebles plays his father with sympathy and respect, offering audiences not only insight into the production of independent films but also a sense of affects the sweeping social changes of the time have had on the film industry. The film won Van Peebles a Black Reel Award.

Van Peebles sees his directing and acting as symbiotic; he can't do one without the other. "As a director I've made the films I have to make," he told Jet, adding "As an actor I've made the films I want to make." When he accepted the role of black action hero in Solo, he commented to Jet that "If I didn't do what I did as a director, I wouldn't be getting these kinds of offers as an actor. I'm in a unique position as a director and an actor. I can be what Rev. Jesse Jackson refers to as the tree shaker and the jelly maker," adds Van Peebles. "Those who shake the tree (make) the fruit fall down."

Additional topics

Brief BiographiesBiographies: Jan Peck Biography - Personal to David Randall (1972–) Biography - PersonalMario Van Peebles Biography - Destined For Show "business", From Acting To Directing, Continued In His Father's Footsteps - Selected works