*At a reception following the screening of his latest movie, “We the Party,” I told Mario Van Peebles that the last time we spoke was for “Panther” and was surprised at what he said. “You know, you can find every movie I’ve done except for the ‘Panther’ movie. It’s a heavy political movie. It says some things that folks in this country are not comfortable with. In that film we laid it out. My dad [Melvin Van Peebles] wrote that and you know he doesn’t play.”
Neither does Mario. Having a black man in the White House, he told The Film Strip, doesn’t mean that there are still important issues that must be addressed. “You know it’s interesting and I will tell why,” he admitted. “We have a great example of what education can do for a brother and a sister. We have an example in that the kids who voted for ‘Cosby’ to be America’s funniest father, not just America’s funniest black father, grew up and voted for Obama to be in the White House.
“So we understand that something was said in the media that said you can laugh with us but you can also laugh at us and that has inspirational qualities. The two favorite shows that people watched when apartheid fell were ‘Miami Vice,’ that had a black leading man and ‘The Cosby Show,’ that also had a black leading man. But check out where we are now. We have a black person in the White House but we still have 50% of young black boys not graduating with their high school class. 50%! With white kids it’s about 74%, Asian kids about 78%. That is a catastrophe!
“So I said let me make a movie that shows the truth that some kids are getting to realize. Kids are starting to wake up and say, ‘smart is the new gangster. I don’t need to just play ball, I need to know how to own the team. I don’t need to just sing; I know how to own the record label. If you look at the montage of ‘We the Party,’ it’s not a kid learning to ‘Stomp the Yard.’ It’s a kid getting his grades up. So let’s make a movie and take the heart of ‘Akeelah and the Bee,’ which I loved, but wrap it up with some ‘House Party,’ and wrap it up with some ‘Breakfast Club’ and have all the love, the humor and the multi-layered messages.
Peebles continued with euphemisms such as “pretty is temporary” and “dumb is forever,” stressing the importance of education. “I thought if you could make policy align with culture, that’s an incredible match,” he enthused. What I wanted to show in this film is that I was not making this up, but drawing upon their experiences and chronicling them. Sure, these kids wanted to have fun, but they were also interested in getting good grades and doing something with their lives. These kids are exemplary of the fact that smart is the new gangsta.”
Mandela Van Peebles, Simone Battle, Moises Arias, Snoop Dogg, YG, The New Boyz, The Rej3ctz, The Pink Dollaz, Michael Jai White, Salli Richardson-Whitfield, Tiny Lister, Orlando Brown and Quincy also appear in “We the Party.”
‘Damsels in Distress’ the answer to depression?
Ironically, just as Peebles made reference to the media in the election of President Obama, Megalyn Echikunwoke jokingly says, “You’re welcome, Mr. Obama,” when The Film Strip asked her about “24.” She was in the first season of the “24” TV series. “It’s so funny,” Echikunwoke says, “I was just talking with the producers about that. We were talking about how it’s crazy that we’re working together [on “House of Lies”] after ‘24’ and how forward thinking it was to put Dennis Haysbert as the president and [we were thinking]—‘I wonder if because it was such a big show that that kind of thinking seeped into the psyche of the American people in some way? We’d like to think that we kind of helped. I mean, it had never been done [on TV] before; it was kind of unprecedented at the time and people really liked it. People really responded to it. So maybe it really made difference.”
Echikunwoke latest film project is “Damsel in Distress,” which also stars Greta Gerwig, Adam Brody, Analeigh Tipton and Carrie MacLemore. The three female college students set out to help “severely depressed students with a program of good hygiene and musical dance numbers.” Yes, you guessed it—it’s a comedy. Echikunwoke does not think the actions of the students are over the top. “I loved that these girls, especially my character, Rose, are very particular. Sometime people think it’s a fault but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being particular about fashion and the way people smell. I think all those things are very important, especially fragrance. The noise is a very powerful sensory part of the body. So I mean smells are very important. They can ruin a day. A bad smell can ruin my day. I completely agree with Rose and all the girls.”
MacLemore agrees. “I’ve been saying it all day that I’m obsessed with the elegance of the past. I just love old books, old movies anything 1800s on through the 30s, and 40s. So I can relate to that.”
Gerwig says doing “Damsels” has made her a better actress. “This is the biggest part I’ve ever had. I’ve been tremendously lucky in the roles I’ve gotten to do and I think in the span of a very short amount of time I’ve gotten ‘Greenberg,’ this role and ‘Arthur.’ I think these are roles you wait a long time to get.”
Tipton was not that surprised about her character’s idiosyncrasies and explained why she didn’t leave the odd trio. “I think the thing that is so unique is that a group of girls together almost spells trouble. But this is not the case with them. They really sort of help everyone they can and each other. I think with minor jealousies aside, it’s a really supportive group.
“Lily thought that all of them were a little bit odd and not normal, but even my character has little weird ticks and I think the film is saying something about people who think they know what normal is. We’re all kind of a little bit odd.”
Syndicated columnist Marie Moore reports on film and TV from her New York City base. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org