Mario Van Peebles

[ACTOR/WRITER/DIRECTOR]

SOUL PLANE WAS MADE FOR SIXTEEN MILLION DOLLARS BY A BIG STUDIO THAT SAYS THAT THE IDEA OF PEOPLE OF COLOR RUNNING AN AIRPLANE IS A JOKE. IT’S NOT THAT WE HAVE A SOUL PLANE SO MUCH AS WE DON’T HAVE A BEAUTIFUL MIND. WE DON’T HAVE A GOOD WILL HUNTING.”
Concepts that Hollywood doesn’t understand:
Even good fathers are not always likable
Smart people buy movie tickets too
Occasionally, the Head Nigga in Charge will win at pool

At fourteen, Mario Van Peebles, son of revolutionary filmmaker Melvin Van Peebles, made his acting debut in his father’s 1971 release, Sweet Sweetback’s Badaasssss Song. In the film, he begrudgingly (though you’d never know it) played Sweetback at various monumental moments in his youth, including the loss of his virginity. A sex scene would be horrifying enough without the added terror of being an adolescent, not to mention being in front of a crew that included your own father. To remain cost-effective during production, Melvin also insisted that Mario scrap his hard-earned afro. In the end, the mighty afro reigned supreme, a wig was purchased, and eventually, Mario began to see the lessons his father was offering up.

Mario went on to study at Columbia University and sharpen his business teeth working for the New York City mayoral office during the Ed Koch era before establishing himself as an actor and director with films like New Jack City, Panther, and Posse. Stridently aware that his father’s legacy deserved to be divulged and understood, he cowrote, directed, produced, and starred in Baadasssss, a film that recreated the making of Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, and addressed the often turbulent relationship between a father and son.

Mario Van Peebles and I met for breakfast at a North Hollywood diner. He is energetic, extraordinarily polite, and smells fantastic. Yes, how terribly unprofessional of me. But it must be said. While he is exceedingly well-read and fervent on a variety of subjects, you cannot ignore the fact that you are immediately at ease around him, as he smells familiar, like bergamot and Ivory soap.

—Amy Güth

*

THE BELIEVER: Were you hesitant to play your own father in Baadasssss, or was that something you knew you wanted to do from the beginning?

MARIO VAN PEEBLES: I realized the only way I was going to make this film and not turn it into cinematic Wonder Bread was to do it myself. I know one guy who has studied this sucker for years: me. And I know one actor who is going to be there on time, not give me any shit, know his lines, not be high, and not be snorting something: me. And I can get me to work for free anytime I want me to. Because me has got to be there. I mean, after all these years of me sleeping with the director, it’s got to pay off! [Laughs]

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

To read the full piece, please contact us to purchase a copy of the magazine.

Amy Güth is a coeditor of The Complete Meal, a new literary journal. She is crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s on her first novel while hiding out in the middle of nowhere.

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