Classified X (Melvin Van Peebles)

Photo Courtesy of the Sundance Film Festival

In 1971 with one startling film, Melvin Van Peebles, writer, director, producer, and musician, forever changed the face of American film. Before Sundance and a network supporting American independent filmmakers were even conceivable, Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song wore its "X" rating like a badge of honor and swept through urban theatres like a house on fire. It proved at once there was an enormous audience for independent films, ones where blacks did something they had not done in earlier American films: fight back. Sweetback is the first American film with a black protagonist who refuses to adapt to the daily humiliations of racism. He is neither passive nor good: He is a brother who dares to get "the Man's foot out of his ass." Melvin Van Peebles' Classified X, the startling new documentary written and performed by Van Peebles and directed by Mark Daniels, is about the nightmare images of self that Hollywood offered up to African-Americans in dream palaces across the country before Sweetback, and surprisingly, after.

Movie images sustain racism. Over and over again, Hollywood made blacks the objects of derision or fear: African-Americans were illiterate primitives, rustic fools, fumbling servants, or simply outside society. Young blacks began to surrender to these self-images, while whites accepted them comfortably. Using images from classic American films as chilling reference, Van Peebles explains with wit and anger why popular culture is still a matter of black and white.

- Laurence Kardish

Starring: Melvin Van Peebles

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