Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song is a 1971 American blaxploitation film written, co-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. The film tells the picaresque story of a poor black man fleeing from the white police authorities.
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 it himself, shooting it independently over 19 days, performing all of his own stunts and appearing in several sex scenes, some 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 reviews. However, it has left a lasting impression on American cinema.
The musical score of Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song was performed by Earth, Wind & Fire. Van Peebles did not have money for traditional advertising methods, so released the soundtrack album prior to the film's release in order to generate publicity. Initially, the film was screened in only two theaters in the United States. It went on to gross $15.2 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.
In 2020, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
After saving a Black Panther from some racist cops, a black male prostitute goes on the run from "the man" with the help of the ghetto community and some disillusioned Hells Angels.