Melvin Van Peebles
Best movie: Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971)
The term “Blaxploitation” brings to mind images of a young Pam Grier, with her stunning beauty and ass-kicking panache, or Richard “Shaft” Roundtree aiming his pistol with authority while decked out in all-black attire.
For many, what mentions of the ’70s-era genre of cinema don’t immediately inspire, unfortunately, is the 1971 game-changer Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, the independently made pic from Melvin Van Peebles. Executed on a humble $150,000 budget, the film, which starred Van Peebles himself as a militant renegade evading “The Man,” went on to haul in a whopping $15 million—a direct result of Hollywood’s void of films starring black actors and delivered from such an authentic and revolutionary perspective.
Unsurprisingly, producers throughout the California film community wanted to emulate the success of Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, leading to the rise of Blaxploitation and the previously mentioned likes of Grier, Roundtree, and their peers.