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, <i>Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song</i> 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. <i>Sweetback</i> 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.” <i>Melvin Van Peebles’ Classified X</i>, 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, 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.
Mark Daniels, Director
Mark Daniels was born in Massachusetts in 1951. A writer and poet, he began making films in 1979. His first feature film, <i>The Influence of Strangers</i> (1986), won several international awards, including the Joseph Von Sternberg Prize (Mannheim). He has also served as director of photography on a wide range of documentary and feature films in both the United States and Europe. <i>Classified X</i> is his fourth documentary film.
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