When blacks throw a party, they don’t play!Melvin Van Peebles, Don’t Play Us Cheap, 1972
Like so many multitalented legends of African American culture, including James Baldwin, W. E. B. Du Bois, Zora Neale Hurston, and Toni Morrison, Melvin Van Peebles maintained a deep love of theater and used the medium to tell stories about Black life. In fact, of all these icons, Van Peebles experienced perhaps the greatest commercial success as a theater artist. Though many cite his filmmaking, specifically his stereotype-busting, renegade 1971 sensation Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, as the primary evidence of his genius, his work for the stage was just as trailblazing. But despite his resounding success on and off Broadway, as well as in regional theaters throughout the United States, Van Peebles’s musicals somehow barely receive a mention in many discussions about his pioneering and multifaceted career. And yet to fully appreciate his role in Black culture, one must understand his connections to the world of theater, particularly the history of Black Broadway musicals.
Mean Streets: Rites of Passage
Martin Scorsese’s breakthrough feature—a rare example of a work of personal cinema with broad popular appeal—delivers all the elements of his future career in one spectacular, bravura throw-down.
Bugs Bunny in the Shaolin Temple
In a string of wildly entertaining films released between the late seventies and the mideighties, Jackie Chan paved the way to his international stardom by turning himself into a real-life cartoon character.
Nanny: Troubled Water
With the full force of her imagination, director Nikyatu Jusu examines the complicated nature of Black motherhood, as well as the importance of Black communion as an antidote to racial oppression.
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