Jan 24, 2014

10 Gay Surprises of Sweet Sweetback's Baadasss Song

In 1971, Melvin Van Peebles had had enough of the Man, and set out to bring the Black Community together with a movie about a hero who triumphs over white oppression.  He had no money, so he shot a lot of scenes with a hand-held camera, used leftover footage from other projects, and did a lot of trippy montages and visual gymnastics.

I expected an angry Black Power movie, with lots of violence and heterosexual sex.  But I was not expecting so much gay content.  Here are the 10 Gay Surprises of Sweet Sweetback's Baadassss Song:

1. In the first scene, a group of prostitutes gaze lustfully at a young boy (Melvin's son, Mario Van Peebles).  One takes him to her room, strips him, and initiates sex.  We see a glimpse of his penis and a lot of his bare butt as he thrusts, thrusts, thrusts. (Don't worry, this photo shows neither.)

2. The boy grows up to be Sweetback, after a slang term for a gigantic penis, and we see it, gigantic and aroused, on camera, as Melvin Van Peebles prepares for sex with a woman.  We see it again several times, and quite a lot of his bare butt as he thrusts, thrusts, thrusts in unsimulated sex scenes.

3. Sweetback works as a performance artist in a gender-bending sex show: a woman is seduced by an elderly man who becomes a woman, and then becomes the naked, aroused Sweetback, all thanks to the efforts of a drag queen Fairy Godmother.

4. Two white police officers appear, wanting to arrest a black man, so Sweetback volunteers.  On the way back to the station, they break up a Black Power rally and arrest the teenage Mu-Mu (Hubert Scales).  They beat him severely, and Sweetback rushes to the rescue, injuring the cops. Gay-subtext rescue!

5. Now the cops want him dead.  Sweetback hopes to take refuge in the home of Beetle (Simon Chuckster), the owner of the brothel, an extremely feminine, gay-coded man, naked except for a towel and a shower cap.  Beetle sympathizes with Sweetback, but he can't stay there; it's too risky.  Later, still shirtless, Beetle is beaten, deafened, and killed by the police.

6. Sweetback tries to take refuge in a church, but the pastor tells him that Mu-Mu has been captured again, so he rushes out.  More gay-coded emotional intensity.  The "damsel in distress" is a guy.

7. Sweetback rescues Mu-Mu, and they seek refuge in a deserted house.  Presumably they're about to have sex when the police break in.

8. Mu-Mu is injured in the ensuing fight.  A black biker (John Amos) offers to take Sweetback to Mexico and escape, but instead he insists that Mu-Mu be taken into town for medical care.  Sacrificing his safety for Mu-Mu.

9. By now Sweetback is a folk hero, so as he runs toward Mexico, dozens of random people, presumably being interrogated by the police, claim that "I ain't seen Sweetback."

Including three lisping, mincing gay stereotypes. Who nevertheless participate in the struggle, try to discomfort the police officers by flirting with them, and key into the Gay Liberation movement by identifying themselves as  "militant queens."

9. One doesn't expect Melvin Van Peebles (who still has a physique) to be gay-friendly.  After all, in the shooting script, the three militant queens are identified as "fags."  Yet he has appeared in several gay-positive movies, such as Love Kills (1999).

10. His son Mario is rumored to be gay, and played a gay character in Multiple Sarcasms (2010).