Directed by Melvin Van Peebles

Directed by Melvin Van Peebles

11 Episodes

Director, writer, composer, actor, and one-man creative revolutionary Melvin Van Peebles jolted American independent cinema to new life with his explosive stylistic energy and unfiltered expression of Black consciousness. Though he undeniably altered the course of film history with the anarchic SWEET SWEETBACK’S BAADASSSSS SONG, that pop-culture bombshell is just one piece of a remarkably varied career that also encompassed forays into European art cinema (THE STORY OF A THREE DAY PASS), mainstream Hollywood comedy (WATERMELON MAN), and Broadway musicals (DON’T PLAY US CHEAP). Each facet of Van Peebles’s renegade genius is on display in this tribute to a transformative artist whose caustic social observation, radical formal innovation, and uncompromising vision established a new cinematic model for Black creative independence.

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Directed by Melvin Van Peebles
  • The Story of a Three Day Pass

    Episode 1

    Directed by Melvin Van Peebles • 1967 • United States
    Starring Harry Baird, Nicole Berger, Hal Brav

    Melvin Van Peebles’s edgy, angsty, romantic first feature could never have been made in America. Unable to break into segregated Hollywood, Van Peebles decamped to France, taught himself the langu...

  • Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song

    Episode 2

    Directed by Melvin Van Peebles • 1971 • United States
    Starring Melvin Van Peebles, Simon Chuckster, Hubert Scales

    A landmark of Black and American independent cinema that would send shock waves through the culture, SWEET SWEETBACK’S BAADASSSSS SONG was Melvin Van Peebles’s second feature film, a...

  • Don’t Play Us Cheap

    Episode 3

    Directed by Melvin Van Peebles • 1972 • United States
    Starring Joe Keyes Jr., Rhetta Hughes, Avon Long

    Melvin Van Peebles’s film version of his own Tony Award–nominated Broadway musical is a bold blend of theater and nervy, New Wave–inflected cinematic invention. A cast of Black stage and screen...

  • Sunlight

    Episode 4

    Directed by Melvin Van Peebles • 1957 • United States

    Made in 1957 in San Francisco, SUNLIGHT is about a man who commits a petty crime out of love for a woman and features Melvin’s son Mario Van Peebles as the couple’s baby.

  • Three Pickup Men for Herrick

    Episode 5

    Directed by Melvin Van Peebles • 1957 • United States

    The second short film Melvin Van Peebles made in San Francisco before decamping for Europe is a striking portrait of a group of day laborers competing to secure a job.

  • Les cinq cent balles

    Episode 6

    Directed by Melvin Van Peebles • 1961 • France

    Made in 1961 in Paris, LES CINQ CENT BALLES is about a boy who tries to retrieve a five-hundred-franc note from a gutter.

  • How to Eat Your Watermelon in White Company (and Enjoy It)

    Episode 7

    Directed by Joe Angio • 2005 • United States
    Starring Marva Allen, Emanuel Azenberg, Spike Lee

    This 2005 documentary, directed by Joe Angio, traces Melvin Van Peebles’s filmmaking career from his feature directorial debut in France through his foray into the Hollywood mainstream to his revolutio...

  • Melvin Van Peebles on THE STORY OF A THREE DAY PASS

    Episode 8

    This August 14, 1968, episode of the television program “Black Journal” features an interview with director Melvin Van Peebles, who was promoting the U.S. release of his first feature film, THE STORY OF A THREE DAY PASS.

  • Melvin Van Peebles on SWEET SWEETBACK’S BAADASSSSS SONG, 2004

    Episode 9

    This excerpted interview with director Melvin Van Peebles, conducted by his son filmmaker Mario Van Peebles, was recorded in 2004 for the Directors Guild of America’s Visual History Program.

  • Melvin Van Peebles on “Detroit Tubeworks”

    Episode 10

    In this segment from the television show “Detroit Tubeworks,” director Melvin Van Peebles promotes his film SWEET SWEETBACK’S BAADASSSSS SONG on the occasion of its Detroit opening weekend, in 1971.

  • Mario Van Peebles and Elvis Mitchell on SWEET SWEETBACK’S BAADASSSSS SONG

    Episode 11

    In this interview, recorded in 2021, filmmaker Mario Van Peebles shares with film critic Elvis Mitchell anecdotes about his father, director Melvin Van Peebles.