Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song is a 1971 American independent action thriller film written, produced, scored, edited, directed by and starring Melvin Van Peebles. His son Mario Van Peebles also appears in a small role, playing the title character as a young boy. It tells the picaresque story of a poor African American man on his flight from the white authority.
Van Peebles began to develop the film after being offered a three-picture contract for Columbia Pictures. No studio would finance the film, so Van Peebles funded the film himself, shooting it independently over a period of 19 days, performing all of his own stunts and appearing in several sex scenes, reportedly unsimulated. He received a $50,000 loan from Bill Cosby to complete the project. The film's fast-paced montages and jump-cuts were unique features in American cinema at the time. The picture was censored in some markets, and received mixed critical reviews. However, it has left a lasting impression on African-American cinema.
The musical score of Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song was performed by Earth, Wind & Fire. Van Peebles did not have any money for traditional advertising methods, so he released the soundtrack album prior to the film's release in order to generate publicity. Initially, the film was screened only in two theaters in the United States. It went on to gross $4.1 million at the box office. Huey P. Newton celebrated and welcomed the film's revolutionary implications, and Sweetback became required viewing for members of the Black Panther Party. According to Variety, it demonstrated to Hollywood that films which portrayed "militant" blacks could be highly profitable, leading to the creation of the blaxploitation genre, although critic Roger Ebert did not consider this example of Van Peebles' work to be an exploitation film.