If Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song wasn’t responsible for giving birth to Blaxploitation this movie would have no significance at all. On paper it sounds very intriguing: a black male prostitute rescues a Black Panther out of the hands of a couple of white cops beating him and in the process nearly kills these two cops. Now he has to go on the run as the net is closing around him. Could be a cool story with some good dialogue, some nice action scenes and maybe even a message or two. Well aside from some sort of a message, mostly that white people suck, especially white cops, Sweet Sweetback is one surrealistic pretentious boring 100 minutes that features basically three types of scenes: Sweet Sweetback literally running through America, The cops chasing Sweetback and Sweetback having some weird type of sex scene with random women. And I say weird because writer, director and star Melvin van Peebles really did go out of his way to not just make a movie starring black people in roles normally reserved for white people, but to make a surrealistic art house movie. There’s a minimum of dialogue, especially by the main character, there’s hardly any narrative and even the plot or character development is totally non-existent.
Despite the groundbreaking subject and not so subtle approach of its political message Sweetback is a movie that’s just bad from start to finish. Everything about it is just terrible: the cinematography, the audio editing, the acting. Even the all women going nude have saggy tits. How hard could it be to find some women with perky ones to show their goods in a non-speaking role?
As you can understand I expected whole lot more of the movie that gave birth to Blaxploitation, especially after seeing good, more accessible, movies like Coffy. Sweetback is such a joyless movie, so devoid of any fun and so repetitive in it’s scenes I had a hard time watching it. The last 40 minutes or so just consists of Sweetback running through several states (I guess) to the Mexican border. They should’ve called this movie “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Run”. Oh and in the process of escaping he kills some dogs that were sent on his trail as well. The viewer is treated to nice long shots of dead dog bodies covered in blood drifting in the water.
It’s hard to understand the cultural impact Sweetback made back in the day, but watching it now it’s just simply a badly made movie. And maybe that’s also part of its legacy; that it was so successful that it changed the landscape and paved the way for black people to star in movies that doesn’t treat them as stereotypes. By being so successful it achieves its goal and therefor can now, 40+ years later, be judged as simply a movie and not a political pamphlet. It was a good pamphlet, but it also is a really bad movie.