Home > Uncategorized > Inaugural CIMMFest Baadasss Award Given To Melvin Van Peebles

Inaugural CIMMFest Baadasss Award Given To Melvin Van Peebles


Last night one of Chicago’s favorite sons came home to receive a lifetime achievement award from the Chicago International Movies & Music Festival. To celebrate we were treated to a short film about his work, followed by a Q&A with NPR’s Richard Steele. Topping it off was a performance by the legend’s band, Melvin Van Peebles widlaxative.

If you aren’t familiar with Van Peebles’ work, you need to get yourself acquainted. Not only is he a talented playwright and musician, but he pretty much set the course for black filmmakers being able to make the movies they want. His picture Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song was the first movie by a black crew and a black cast. Needless to say there was some trouble finding distribution in the all-white movie industry. Van Peebles took a chance and distributed the movie himself. Only two theaters would play it initially, but it went on to be the highest-grossing independent film up to that time. Hollywood cashed in on the success of Van Peebles film, kicking off the blaxploitation craze, but he never received another offer to direct.

Richard Steele asked Melvin about all that and more during the Q&A session. Most of it focused on Sweetback and the making-of film that Melvin’s son Mario Van Peebles made in 2003 (an excellent film). When Steele would ask more general questions, like “Do you think it’s easier for a black filmmaker to get financing today?” Melvin responded shortly “I don’t know.” The only things I really found interesting were when he would go off on his own and just talk. There was one in particular where he was talking about his legacy, which I’ll paraphrase “I do think that for the Tyler Perry’s or the Spike Lee’s that maybe it was a little bit easier for them. And I think that I had something to do with that. I think that we’re much closer than we would be if I hadn’t made Sweetback.”

At the end of the session staff from CIMMFest presented the inaugural Baadasss Award to Melvin. It’s a huge six-shooter that took him by surprise. He seemed to be truly honored to receive the award, and happy to be back in his hometown.

After a short break the lights went dark and the music started. During the Q&A Steele asked about the band, and Melvin responded “It’s called Melvin Van Peebles widlaxative, because I don’t take no shit.” At 80 years old he’s still as energetic as most people half his age, and more ornery than ever. The band he’s surrounded himself with is fantastic, and he continues his style of spoken word over the music.


It didn’t take long before most of the audience was out of their seats and crowding in front of the stage. Even though it’s spoken word, Van Peebles words and delivery packs the same punch as a punk show. He’ll be talking in a normal voice and all of a sudden he’ll shout out at the top of his lungs. He sits a lot, as you’d imagine an 80 year old man would, but there were moments where he would start dancing. Very briefly, but it was great to see him moving like that.

CIMMFest put together a great event, hell a great festival. The tag line is “Movies. Music. Inseparable.” I couldn’t agree more. Last night we celebrated both with one of Chicago’s finest examples in both fields.

  1. April 23, 2013 at 5:23 pm

    Reblogged this on Moist Paula's Horn Chic and commented:
    I just got back from Chicago where I played with Melvin Van Peebles wid Laxative at CIMMFest – we had a great time and Melvin was thrilled to be honored in his home town when the Inaugural Baadasssss Award was presented to him by the Festival.

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