Move over Spike Lee, stand down John Singleton, for Melvin Van Peebles is Black American Cinema. Now, with son Mario directing, he’s brought his first-hand knowledge of 605 Black Power politics to the screen in the powerful Panther.
Trevor Johnston met the father and son team.
ou’d be running low on ﬁngers if you counted how many times the words ‘divided nation’ cropped up in recent media discussions of the OJ verdict and Minister Farrakhan’s million man march on Washington. In the US. the racial agenda and racial equality are very much live issues again (not that they were ever dead), all of which makes the appearance of Mario and Melvin Van Peebles’s film Panther a timely one.
Almost three decades on, the story of late 60s
12 The List 3-16 Nov 1995
militants the Black Panther Party for Self Defence — and their attempts to challenge the white establishment with legally held firearms. self-generated food programmes and a nationwide network of local chapters to disseminate information and organise at grass roots level - is still frighteningly relevant. And. after all, we’re not so smug on this side of the Atlantic that we can say all our inequalities and tensions have been wiped away by an eternity of Tory rule.
‘Any movie that’s about self-determination
cuts across all boundaries,’ reckons Melvin Van Peebles. ‘lt’s about people taking their destiny in their own hands.’
Well. amen to that, especially when it comes from One Who Knows. While son Mario may be best known to latterday punters as the director of the terrific New Jack City, the rather dodgy revisionist western Posse, and now — best of all by far — the intelligent and impassioned Panther, it’s dad Melvin, as sprightly a bandana-wearing 63-year-old as you could ever wish to meet, who’s got the real cultural credentials. By the