*“He was the father of independent films,” said Tanya Hart, co-producer of the Pop Film (Steven and Sylvie Gautier) documentary Sweet Black, based on the life of Melvin Van Peebles (Sweet Sweetback’s Badaass Song). “That’s why you can make a living (making independent films) because he was the Godfather of Black cinema.”
The Sweet Sweetback’s Badaass Song film debuted in 1971, 50 years ago. Melvin Van Peebles – an actor, director (Columbia Pictures’ Watermelon), composer and playwright – found it hard to get through the “Hollywood” door with content that realistically depicted the black experience, so he moved to France and built his own door to Hollywood. France, at the time, welcomed black actors, directors and filmmakers. Melvin not only starred in the film, that had a budget of $500,000, but he made an unheard of 10 million dollars upon its release.
“We just received the call for this in the spring. They needed a U. S. partner to shoot some stuff. It’s airing in France in March, 2022…we’re making plans to bring it to the U. S.,” said Tanya about how her company, Flying Free Films, became co-producers of the Sweet Black documentary. “The French people wanted to celebrate the 50th anniversary for Sweetback. He is still so popular over there.”
She continued, “Melvin knew (about Sweet Black)…he took ill and everyone ended up in his apartment (in Manhattan, NY). Melvin came home from the hospital but died on the last day of shooting. I think he knew (he was dying). He was thrilled with France, it was a big part of his life…it gave him energy.”
He has two sons – Mario and Max. Mario Van Peebles made the Baadassssss! film in 2003 about the making of Sweet Sweetback’s Badaass Song, where he plays his father Melvin.
“Melvin moved to France before Sweetback…he was fed-up with the U.S. with its black filmmaking. It was during the Harlem Renaissance…,” Tanya said, “Max still lives there. He is younger than Mario.”
A four-time Emmy Award winner Tanya’s Flying Free Films (Ray Charles: The Music Lives On) is partnered with her husband Phil. She is also a singer (“Tanya Hart Sings”); an actress (Tale of James Brown); television host (BET’s “Live from L. A. with Tanya Hart”); a radio personality at American Urban Radio Network (AURN), which airs on over 300 stations and is an author of children books. Hart, also a Peabody Award winner, is co-chair at The Caucus for Producers, Writers & Directors.
Catherine Bernstein and Marline Delumeau are writers and directors of the Sweet Black documentary, with Jerome Colin serving as director of photography. It will air on ARTE TV in March, 2022 in France, Germany and the EU (European Union). www.Tanya-Hart.com www.PopFilmsProductions.com
SYNDICATED COLUMN: Eunice Moseley, MS, MBA, MPhil has an estimated weekly readership of over ¼ million with The Pulse of Entertainment. She is also a Public Relations Strategist and Business Management Consultant at Freelance Associates, and is Promotions Director (at-large) for The Baltimore Times. www.ThePulseofEntertainment.com. EVENTS: “Uplifting Minds II” Entertainment Conference (ULMII), founded by Eunice in 1999, is into its 23rd year. Next events are coming to Baltimore Saturday April 16, 2022 presented by Security Square Mall and The Baltimore Times, and Los Angeles Saturday, November 5, 2022 via Zoom. The ULMII event is a free entertainment conference offering a Professional Industry Panel Q&A Session, a Professional Talent Showcase and National Talent Competition (vocal, songwriting, dance and acting) where aspiring artists have a chance to receive over $16,000 valued in prizes/product/services. Log onto www.UpliftingMinds2.com for more information or to RSVP for Zoom Access email [email protected]