A Reaction to the Opinion, “Watched Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song for the first time. It was really bad.”
by W. Paul Coates

Maybe, but I do agree with you on the acting; not much there to crow about. But I think it better to explore the context of this film which gets lumped in to easily with the Blackexplotation films that followed it.

Melvin with this film and the plays, that he would do and become famous for later, was trying to tell a story of our people. He was doing it in medium and in a way that had never been done quite like this before.His plays, as you probably know, are not the best acting vehicles either, still the story he paints and the word and lives of those on his stages were and remain deep reflections of our community.

It’s not just the scene with John Amos where he utters what I think are his only lines in the whole movie, “he’s our future Bro.” But even the closing scene where he’s running like hell. Remember the closer, the line that says something like, this nigger is coming back, that is not a line about Sweetback as much as it is a line about the resistance muscle and revolutionary muscle that has developed in our people.

If you see Sweetback as an individual you get one thing. If you see him as a representative of a people’s struggle you get quite another. Same deal with Earth, Wind and Fire performance as the I “Angels,” the musical voices that goad him constantly, at first telling him he can’t beat the white man. They dog him almost all the way thru the movie with the same narrative. They, are like so many people in our community, Ron, the same ones that have told you that your dream and vision of creating a literary voice is crazy and you can't do it — yet you persist, and at some point like the Angels many of these people become converted by your example and become your biggest boosters. Those angels represent voices in the Black community and their potential as allies. Their ability to go from negative voices and become positive support for our most radical ideas and movement. They if you remember at the end of the movie are the ones who cheer him one very supportive and loudly.

It’'s a powerful way to look at our community. A way to look at you “he won’t beat me,” and other resistors in our community. Melvin made that movie not like the other folks who saw his success and followed with tons of white money, he large largely wrote bad checks in an international kiting scheme exploiting a loophole he found in how money moved from bak to bank, and thumbing his nose at those folks as he went. At the risk of being cold wrong, I seem to remember some of Cosby’s money also be put up for the film. Melvin remains one of our Sweetest Sweetbacks. Check out if you have not his plays, especially and Ain’t Supposed To Die A Natural Death.

Also, if you can find a small paperback that I no longer have How I Made Sweet Sweetback you will have a treasure. Even Mario’s movie on his father’s film is helpful, I think. I still look forward to talking with you…