Show Business: Power to the Peebles

It was shot in 20 days on a wheezing budget with a crew recruited largely from skin flicks and the streets. Critics hated it, distributors shunned it. But black audiences loved Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, a foxy film centering around an outlaw from the ghetto who throws down girls—white and black —the way Billy the Kid tossed back sarsaparilla. In the end he gets away with everything. Huey Newton, Black Panther defense minister, called it "the first truly revolutionary black film."

The movie was produced, written and directed by Melvin Van Peebles, who...

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