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 luminaries including Esther Rolle, Mabel King, and Avon Long stars in this charmingly offbeat, fablelike fantasy in which a pair of mischief-making devil-bats dispatched by Satan assume human form in order to wreak havoc on a Saturday-night house party in Harlem—only to find their diabolical plan thwarted by their hosts’ infectious generosity of spirit. Staged with ebullience, the original blues- and gospel-infused songs by Van Peebles burst forth in a life-affirming celebration of Black joy, tenderness, resilience, and strength.
This June 6, 1972, episode of the television program “Black Journal” features an interview with director Melvin Van Peebles in which he discusses the Broadway production of his play DON’T PLAY US CHEAP.