Mario Van Peebles Captures Youth Culture With 'We The Party'
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Mario Van Peebles Captures Youth Culture With ‘We the Party’

Mario Van Peebles
Van Peebles offers directorial advice to his son, Mandela, between takes

Why is it so important that people go out and support this film?

Think about this: When’s the last time you saw a movie where the core of the movie–not similar to The Karate Kid or Stomp the Yard–but a Black boy having to get his grades up where you see us in high school? That’s interesting subliminally. It’s almost like an ad for being a Black student where you got 50% of young brothers dropping out of college and you got brothers getting shot because they’re wearing a hoodie. In this movie, you have a boy wearing a hoodie. He emerges and performs a song with consciousness, so it’s interesting.

What I like is that the youth are embracing We the Party as real. There’s a lot of teen movies like Grease that are great films but they don’t feel like teenagers and they don’t look like teenagers but this one shows how they really talk and think. We got a movie that’s got heart. It has some nutritional value and something to say but it’s wrapped up in entertainment. I want it to hit some real stuff but I also want it to have something to say and still make it compelling.

As a parent, what are your thoughts on what’s been going on with Trayvon Martin?

I have three boys and first of all, like with filming We the Party, you want to be very careful about judging a book by its cover when you don’t know people. That’s always tricky. We know our Black teens–especially our teen boys–are a target and are stereotyped quite a bit, sometimes even by us. That was fun with the movie; playing with some of the imagery like, the guy you thought may be not what you think he is. I think, and without putting myself into a political spot because I’m a film director not a politician, I think democracy is like a car and when you take your foot off the gas, the car slows down. I think that even though we had a Black baseball player, very early on, we had that one Black baseball player but it didn’t mean baseball was integrated. Even though we have a Black family in the White House, which is smart and terrific, it doesn’t mean we’re post-racial and that situation clearly underscores that.

Going back to making the movie, what was your journey like in terms of getting funding?

It was very easy [laughs]. I looked in the mirror and said, Who’s that negro in the mirror and there was a White dude next to me named Michael. Michael is my partner who funded it with me. He’s my running buddy and we were just running on the beach talking about how it had been 20 years since we’ve had that cool coming of age flick so it was time to do another one with this generation.

You probably had an easier time than others with funding. Do you have an advice to other filmmakers out there on how to raise money for their projects?

I don’t think we had an easier time of it [laughs]. When you do it yourself it’s still hard. The movie comes out [today] April 6 and we need to spread the word for opening weekend because we don’t have big Hollywood money to support it. The films that Hollywood tends to support are often these reductive comedies that have us running around with wigs and dresses on, so they’ll get behind something that’s not always as positive as you might hope or without real aspiration. When Hollywood does that they’re going to say it’s too smart for the kids and they’re going to make you water it down. I didn’t want to water it down, so we had to do it ourselves. I think with the technology it’s easier to make a film but it’s harder to get it distributed because there’s no cinematic middle class in Hollywood. There’s either these huge 3D films, or the little indie movies. And we’re sort of in the middle and that’s a tough place to be. I think breaking that distribution down is key so, wish us luck.

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