In an offhand conversation I was having with my roommate one day the movie Panther came up. He mentioned he had never seen the movie before. I haven't seen it since college and decided to refresh my memory. So hence a screening of the movie was to take place in our home about a week later. Upon viewing the movie I was struck with strong, powerful images of Black characters and thoroughly enjoyed a movie with fine acting and a great story. That got me to thinking whatever happened to Mario Van Peebles? As the director of Panther he gave new eyes to the Black Panther Party movement in Oakland, CA for those of us too young to have experienced those events firsthand. He had movie star good looks and directed some great flicks in the 90s. So where is he?
In the 90’s he was one of the premiere black directors to tell stories of inner city drug abuse and distress with his feature film directorial debut New Jack City. The film was hit and catapulted Wesley Snipes’ career. Posse followed shortly thereafter and it played a lot like a classic Sergio Leone spaghetti western. A Black soldier of the Spanish American war goes AWOL to avenge his lynched reverend father with the rest of his predominantly black infantry in tow. The most I remember about this movie was that it was a fun cowboy flick and very refreshing to see the portrayal of Black Cowboys due to the lack of their presence in films, TV, and history books. Panther was his follow up film and was basically a commercial flop. See it anyway if you haven’t. It tells and amazing powerful story and has a great cast with a lot of unexpected cameos. Solo was his next big film to follow and I’ll point out he was merely the star not the director. This was a very big miss. It was one of the most boring “action” films I’ve ever seen.( Anytime someone is playing a robot it really seems like they can’t act. That kind of thing is best left to Arnold.) But I thought surely if anything was to turn his career around it would have been Badassssss!, which was the film he directed and starred in playing his father Melvin Van Peebles as he attempted to film and distribute his birth to the blaxploitaion era Sweet Sweetback’s Badassss Song. The movie was a small scale independent film and didn’t fare too well at the box office despite its critical praise.
I looked up his info on IMDB and it seems Mr. Van Peebles is a much busier man than I gave him credit for. He merely made the transition to TV directing episodes of Damages, Law and Order and even an episode of Lost to include just some of his credits. He had made sporadic TV appearances in television and films but I wish he would get back in the director’s seat for more films. He had an honest voice and gave us positive, intelligent Black characters you don’t always get to see in films nowadays, if you do see any black characters. Come back Mario!!! Tyler Perry cannot be the only one doing black films.