Thursday, October 06, 2005


Making The Song That Little Bit Less Baad Asssss

In these days of an ever more enlightened BBFC, it is extremely rare for censorship on any particular work to be increased. Indeed, some recent decisions have been so surprising, amongst them the decisions to pass 'Taxi To The Toilet' and 'Tenement' uncut, that it seemed we were really on the road towards me being completely happy. Unfortunately, my personal happy-meter took a plunge this week with the news that blaxploitation classic 'Sweet Sweetback's Baad Asssss Song' has now had significant cuts applied to it. It was previously available uncut.

Basically, the story is this. Early in the story, the young hero loses his virginity to a 'party girl.' The actor in question looks to be under the age of consent, and Mario Van Peebles, fourteen at the time, plays the young Sweetback in the story, but upon submission by Missing In Action in 1998, Melvin Van Peebles, the director of the film, assured the BBFC that that particular moment was being acted by Hubert Scales, another actor in the film, who at that time was over the age of consent. Confused? Let the BBFC clear it up:

'This work was previously passed uncut on video by the BBFC in 1998 on the basis of written assurances from the film's director, Melvin Van Peebles, that the person playing young Sweetback having sex with an adult female in reel one was Hubert Scales, an actor who was at least 18 at time of filming.'

'Information that has come light since 1998 has cast considerable doubt on those assurances and it now appears to the BBFC, on the basis of the available evidence, that the actor in the scene in question was, in fact, the director's son, Mario Van Peebles, who cannot have been older than 14 years at time of filming.'

What makes the story interesting is the 'information that has come to light.' That information is actually a documentary film by Mario Van Peebles, the minor in question, now of course a player in the film industry of his own right, called 'Baadasssss!' This was a rather brilliant documentary/homage which paid tribute to his father's work, and also cast an eye over, essentially, what it was like to be black in the early seventies. It was a great film and a fascinating cultural artefact, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

However, it has proved a bit of an own goal. The trouble is that Mario recounts in the film how he lost his on-screen virginity in that opening scene. Indeed, a reasonable portion of the film's length is devoted to that scene. Consequently, the BBFC, faced with a new submission for cinema release for the old film, had to cut it. Melvin Van Peebles consented to having black ink placed over the relevant body parts, alongside an explanation as to the cause.

The BBFC have taken legal advice, and it's now the case that anyone in possession of the 1998 Missing In Action video could be liable to prosecution under either the Protection Of Children Act, or, somewhat more likely, the Obscene Publications Act. Sorry.

Predictably, Mark Kermode has written an excllent piece, far better than this, here. To steal his final line:

'In the case of Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, the cutting of this masterpiece may be regrettable. But however unsatisfactory the outcome, the Van Peebles have no-one to blame but each other.'

Mario Van Peebles ably showed in 'Baadasssss!' that life was very hard for an aspiring black director in the early seventies. He also showed that it was possible to fall back on hippie sex in order to console oneself.

I have nothing to say other than "Van Peebles" is quite possibly one of the most improbable names I've seen on a celebrity outside of Sheamus DonFantastique
It's a great name isn't it? I wish I was called Stephen Van Peebles. That would be superb. It's a question I often ponder - what would I change my name to if I could change it to anything? Stephen Van Peebles is up there, but I'm not sure.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?