Director Melvin Van Peebles Says Responding to Police Brutality is Not Complicated

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Director Melvin Van Peebles will be awarded the “Spirit of Queens” award from the organizers of the Queens World Film Festival [QWFF], which begins today, for his film “Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song.”

Van Peebles wrote, produced, scored, directed, and starred in the 1971 film about a young Black man who is framed for a murder he did not commit.

In the midst of the current Black Lives Matter campaign seeking, in part, to end the killing of unarmed Black people by law enforcement. asked Van Peebles at the Festival press conference in February, what inspiration can Black audiences draw from this film where the main character was brutalized by police and escaped to Mexico in the end?

“Well, the whole story is right there. The second part is move, get out, kick ass, when you have to. I don’t think it’s that complicated. What’s the first rule of the block? Don’t write no check your ass can’t cash.”

Van Peebles continued to say that everyone should speak out against police brutality since many groups of people besides African-Americans are also victims.

“It’s happening to the purple, the White, the Chinese …the Black community is probably the worst received right now... people, in general, should feel just as bad for the Black community [as they would] for the purple. If they don’t, then hey, that’s wrong. You don’t have to be Black to say ‘Yo, homey, don’t play that,’” he said.

After the press conference, Van Peebles said that it feels greats receiving the "Spirit of Queens" award. When asked if he was working on any upcoming projects he repeatedly said, “I can’t talk about it, her husband might get mad.”

Also, in attendance at the press conference were the actors, directors, and production staff from the other films in the Festival including Tyrik Washington.

He wrote and directed “Under the Heavens,” which is about a character who got involved in the fight for justice after seeing the killing of Eric Garner, an unarmed Black man who was put in a chokehold by a New York Police Department officer, on television.

“The film takes on the perspective that maybe there’s a time for war. I know that I will have people who are uncomfortable with that perspective but in my opinion; until we know as individuals that we have … the right to defend ourselves, I think that this system will not change,” said Washington.

Another issue the film grapples with is the lack of emotional and psychological support that the African-American community receives after high profile police killings. "I read an article about Sandy Hook, which was a tragedy, [that said] the Federal government sent therapists to that community. I think it goes beyond Sandy Hook.

"We too as Black men, Black women, are … scared of the cops and the drug dealer. We’re living in a community where we are under attack by multiple things from economic racism to institutional racism. So as a filmmaker, as an artist… Rather than getting angry about it, I said ‘I’m going to find a way to express this frustration.'" 

“Under the Heavens” is garnering attention internationally as well. Washington said that he will debut the film overseas in South Africa this month, followed by Italy and Chile.

The festival ends on March 20 and features 138 films from 25 countries. Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song will be shown at the Museum of the Moving Image‎ in Astoria, Queens on March 16 at 7 p.m.

Go to for a complete schedule.

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