Mario Van Peebles’ latest film, “We the Party” is not your typical coming of age movie! For instance, it stars his real teenage children and addresses subject matter that would make a few Walt Disney teen film producers blush. However, Peebles feels it’s all relevant and in-tune with this modern day teenage culture, a culture that he says “can do very good and very bad at Facebook speed.”
RayCornelius talked to the actor-filmmaker recently about his new movie, the reality of making black indie films without Hollywood money and his an insightful perspective about the Travyon Martin situation; all of which is sure to make some folks a little uneasy. In fact, Peebles had so much to say about Martin, Hollywood, Black images in media and his career that his interview had to be divided into two parts.
Here is part one of RayCornelius with the outspoken actor…
RC: Tell us the inspiration behind your new film, “We the Party”?
MVP: Life with my bad ass teenagers! Growing up, falling down, and getting back up again. I tried to guide them and see what they were doing naturally. And then at a certain point they started asking me if they could go out to some all-ages club, and I happily replied, “hell no! Not unless you bring me.” They were distraught and we went back and forth. And so Mandela, whom I call my “two slap son” said, “what if you go out with us but not as our dad but as part of our entourage?”
So they dressed me up in skinny jeans and swagged me out with a hat and sneakers and I went out with them, “incognegro” of course. We went into the clubs and parties and they were playing Snoop Dogg and YG and The New Boys, and Pink Dollars and The Rejects and dancing and jerking and doing the “Dougie” and then cook it up and beefing it up. And I thought back to the movies that I enjoyed like “House Party,” “The Breakfast Club” and “Stand and Deliver” and thought maybe it was time to do that coming of age flick and mix it up. “House Party” was mostly Black, “The Breakfast Club” was all white and “Stand and Deliver” was mostly Latino. And so it’s 2012. Let’s see what these kids are really doing now and that’s where the inspiration came from.
RC: You’ve cast all five of your teenage children [sons Makaylo, Mandela and Marley and daughters Morgana and Maya] in the film, was it hard being director and dad at the same time?
MVP: It was incredibly easy. So, with them being teenagers I know their voices really well and so it was really organic because my one son was studying with this girl who was a 4.0 student and she would tutor him over Skype and he would fall asleep looking at her face. My other son was on the debate team and they nicknamed him Obama and my eldest daughter is the gossip queen and sort of the fashion czar. So the film and the characters were built around real stuff that was happening in their lives. So it really made sense in this particular case. It’s kind of like knitting them a sweater with love that hopefully will not itch them too bad.
RC: “We the Party” addresses some very “adult” topics and themes, was that intentional or did it just happen that way?
MVP: Both, because it was real life. I feel like I never want to be afraid to have that conversation with my kids or a young audience about what society has already started. See society started a conversation with our daughters early on about hyper sexuality when Britney Spears had the video with the mini-skirt on and we’re like, “ok, what’s that about? Hey dad, can I dress like that? Whoa, let’s have that conversation.”
The first time your son sees the videos of rappers throwing money in the air and making it rain and pouring champagne, spinners and gold teeth, society is starting a conversation about hyper materialism, right? Black on Black crime and it’s ok to commit genocide as long as we do it to a “good” beat. All of this is for real so let’s talk about it. generation has a lot on their plate. They can do very good and very bad very quickly at Facebook speed! So I wanted to have that be reflected in the film because that is a reality of their lives. I didn’t put anything in the film that wasn’t a reality in their lives. It was all stuff that they were really dealing with.
RC: You are funding this film independently? Do you find it easier or more challenging to tell “our” stories when we are controlling the film’s funding and distribution?
MVP: Good question! Hollywood right now is supporting a reductive vision of people of color—often in comedies and with wigs and dresses. Now there is nothing wrong with comedies and folks in wigs and dresses. But I feel there is a lack of diversity in our imagery.
And there are three kinds of people. People that watch stuff happen, people that complain about stuff happening and people that make stuff happen. I just grew up in a family where we just got out and make things happen. And so sometimes that also means that you can’t take Hollywood money. Because if you take Hollywood money, they are going to tell you to do what they think your folks want to see. So you can’t take McDonald’s money and make a film like Super-Size Me that goes up against the fast food industry. You can’t call the fast food industry out if you’re taking French fry money.
If I take Hollywood money, I can’t have a scene in the movie where a young Black rapper is told to “gangster it up” and he says, “So you mean, write about n*ggas like me shooting each other?” Yeah! n*ggas like you but make it gangsta or sex it up cause that will sell records. And he turns to the record exec and says, “would you write about the Holocaust and gangsta it up?” No! You can’t say that unless you are independent! So there is a lot of stuff that happens in the context of “We the Party” that would not have been supported by a Hollywood outlook. And we know that, he who has the gold makes the rule.
RC: You’re raising three teenage sons, what are your thoughts on the Trayvon Martin tragedy
MVP: Look! Jackie Robinson being the first brother to play baseball didn’t mean that baseball was integrated! It’s just that they have one Black baseball player. And Barack Obama being in the White House doesn’t mean we are living in a post-racial era either. It means we’ve had one Black President. It doesn’t mean that the “isms” have all magically vanished. Lookism, classism, sexism and racism are all still alive and well. I tell my kids that. I tell them that social justice—and I said this the other day on CNN–is like a car, that if you take your foot off the gas, the car will slow down. The question is, do you want to watch it, complain about it or do something about it? Again, I’m a doer and I hope that my kids will be too.
But the truth is this, 83% of young Black death I think these numbers come out of Philly, are by young black men. We kill ourselves better and quicker than anyone else. That’s the truth man. I am all for rallying and supporting the family and pressing charges, etc. I get it. But the biggest cause of Black death is us. We need to go no further than to look in the mirror. And again that doesn’t sound good and I don’t say it in front of too many people but I’m saying it to you. The reality is that we know failing schools equals successful prisons. Why aren’t we doing something about that? I teach my kids that you are a bit of a target growing up in America. You were brought here, your ancestors were brought here to be cheap labor–not to be President, not to play ball, not to rap, not to be actors and directors–but to be cheap labor. And if it were not for education, you would still be cheap labor. If you leave the schoolhouse, you’re more than likely to end up in the jailhouse and be a modern day slave.
Check out the trailer of “We the Party”
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