It’s been more than twenty years since New Jack City hit the big screen, and Mario Van Peebles still feels like the flavor of the month. And that’s a good thing, he says with a chuckle. On Friday, his latest film hits theaters nationwide — We The Party starring Peebles himself, Salli Richardson-Whitfleld, Michael Jai White and just about every other Van Peebles we haven't seen on screen before. The indie movie picks up where House Party leaves off and where Breakfast Club didn’t dare go.
The legendary actor and director —he currently directs Kelsey Grammer in the critically acclaimed Starz series Boss — also is introducing us to a specific next-generation of Peebles greatness: his son, Mandela.
The film is a look at teenagers as they are, not as adults imagine they are. And it’s timely — It’s almost scary how timely it is. The film deals with five ethnically diverse kids who are dealing with money, sex, college, bullies, fitting in and finding themselves. There’s even a character that wears a hoodie the entire film, and is stereotyped because of it.
Peebles shrugs off the coincidence — he’s used to making films that connect with whatever we’re dealing with at large; ahem, New Jack City, anyone?
Here’s what else the black Hollywood icon has to say:
EBONY.com: Why did you want to make a film like this?
Mario Van Peebles: When I directed New Jack City, there was a movie that came out before us that I loved called House Party by the Hudlin Brothers and there was also a movie called Breakfast Club that I loved. House Party was mostly black folks, Breakfast Club was mostly white folks and I figured 2012 was time to mix it up and really have a 2012 party and … make that coming-of-age movie for this generation.
EBONY.com: You were inspired by 80's and 90's films, but how did this come about and why now?
MVP: I have three boys and two girls and they’re all teenagers. My kids wanted to go to these all-age teenage clubs and I was like, "Hell no! Y’all can’t go out without me." My son said, "We can’t bring you dad, that’s like bringing the cops." They thought about it and then they said, "Ok, what if we bring you, but you don’t go as our dad, like you go and pretend you’re our security or whoever of our entourage." So basically I went out to the club with them, incognegro. I went to all the parties with my kids, and they were throwing parties at the house. I saw the way they were dancing and communicating and all the new music and they were listening to YG and the New Boyz and The Rejects and … Snoop Doog and when we went to do the movie, I said, this should be the movie.
EBONY.com: Your son is a lead in the movie; this is the third generation of Van Peebles in the business. What was that experience like directing your son?
MVP: My dad always said there’s four phases in an actor/director’s life. There’s Mario Who? There’s ‘Get me Mario!’ Get me a young Mario, and Mario Who? One of the things that I wanted with We the Party is never to be afraid of continuing or completing a conversation with your kids or with a young audience that society has already started. In other words, society started a conversation with your kids, whether you want to acknowledge it or not, about hyper-sexuality, hyper-materialism. So one of the things that comes up in We the Party is, you can’t buy your sense of self at the mall. You can buy some new sunglasses and some spinners, but you can’t buy your sense of self; you can’t drive it.
EBONY.com: There’s something very timely and eerie in your film, considering that one of the main characters, spends the entire film wearing a hoodie and is judged for it.
MVP: When you make a film that is based in reality, reality will come up all around it. It happened with New Jack City where real things were happening in the street that were kind of like in the movie, and it’s happening now with We the Party. This young brother has been pre-judged, but (my son’s character) doesn’t do that; he doesn’t make that mistake, and he gets to know who this brother really is.
EBONY.COM: You’ve been making movies a long time. Has it gotten easier or more challenging to get black films — ones that reflect all of our lives -—greenlit?
MVP: That depends on the film. If you make a film … where people just laugh at us, I think it’s pretty easy still. But if you make a movie that makes people think as well as laugh, you know, sometimes that’s more challenging.