Synopsis by Mark Deming
Melvin Van Peebles created a new style of African-American filmmaking in 1971, when on a shoestring budget he made Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, a violent action picture about a sex-show stud on the run from the police that below the surface served as a call for revolution in the black community. But Sweet Sweetback was hardly Van Peebles' first or only bold achievement in the arts. After brief careers piloting cable cars in San Francisco and flying fighter planes in the Korean War, Van Peebles moved to Paris, where he wrote five novels, became a regular contributor to an anarchist journal, and directed his first feature film, The Story of a Three-Day Pass. On the strength of its critical acclaim, Van Peebles returned to America and made his first (and only) major studio film, Watermelon Man, which helped him gather the money and connections it took to make Sweet Sweetback. Alongside these cinematic triumphs, Van Peebles launched a recording career in the late '60s, making literate but streetwise albums that paved the way for rap and hip-hop, and staged a series of hit Broadway plays including Don't Play Us Cheap and Ain't Supposed to Die a Natural Death. In the 1980s, Van Peebles switched careers and became a successful Wall Street options trader, and watched his son Mario Van Peebles become a star. (Mario would also go on to make a film about his dad's adventures making Sweet Sweetback, entitled Baadasssss!) How to Eat Your Watermelon in White Company (and Enjoy It) is a documentary made with Van Peebles' participation that looks back at his multi-faceted career and the brilliant, uncompromising man behind it all. The film includes interviews with a number of Van Peebles' colleagues and admirers, including Spike Lee, Gil Scott-Heron, Gordon Parks, and Elvis Mitchell.
African-American, Black [race], controversial, film-director, military, stock-market