Classified X  

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"I'm part negro, Howard, so is your mother. [...] That makes you a negro too." --Lost Boundaries (1949), cited in Classified X (1998)

"... Van Peebles' distinctive analyses and his ever-growing importance to new black helmers via 1971's breakthrough Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song make this a package with shelf life for cinematheques, schools and select broadcaster webs.... Scaredy-cat comedy-relief types, jungle "savages," mammies and minstrels (Van Peebles acidly observes that Caucasian players "put on blackface when they felt like doing something extra-stupid") gave way after World War II to "The New Negro" -- a put-upon "keeper of conscience" for the white protagonists. Pic briefly exits Hollywood to consider the independent black cinema that flourished -- with strict low-budget bounds -- from silent days till the late '40s, supported by a network of blacks-only theaters."-- Dennis Harvey, "Melvin Van Peebles' Classified X", Variety, February 4, 1998

"Hollywood took my formula diminished the concept of Negritude to a flamboyant cartoon and reversed the political message turning it into a counter-revolutionary one and voila, out of the commercial success of Sweetback -- to make a long story short -- the blaxploitation movie was born."--Melvin Van Peebles cited in Classified X (1998)

Related e



Classified X is a 1998 French-American documentary movie written by Melvin Van Peebles, directed by Mark Daniels and narrated by Van Peebles, that details the history of black people in American cinema throughout the 20th century.

The documentary includes footage from the following movies:

See also


now you're public property and the

watermelons Oh Willie

yes needs to go and the chicken house is

over there chicken house uh-huh

what am I waiting for I don't know

neither tell you what you say you ain't

gettin fresh with me is you coloured boy

honey don't you give me none

well what some folks find funny or the

spine tragic Alice honest is me why is

he so scared why was always so skilled

well wouldn't you be

I did say we I'm black you see

tell you what you take those

rose-colored glasses off and I'll loan

you a special pair of colored folks

shoes let's see how they feel to you

come on take a little stroll with me

that's right it was you when I first

became aware of movies messing with my mind

I must have been around 12 or 13 was

around the end of the Second World War

or they had been messing with mine

before that but I just wasn't aware of

it no that's not right

I just wasn't able to put a name to what

I was feeling when I'd leave the triple feature on Saturday afternoon at the

National rat alley that's what we call

the cinema in my neighborhood


I learned what that emotion was it's

called shame

movie his story is always

going on about how my 1971 film was

feedback sprang out of nowhere about how

it was such a revolutionary film a true

original that did noise the leads to

anything in the past

well it wasn't part of any traditional movement out of the past but on the

contrary Oh contraire it didn't just

spring out of thin air the movies were

the advance couch into adulthood I don't

need to learn how to ride a horse climb a palm tree ski to learn how to court

a girl and even kiss

but most importantly the

movies offered a peephole into the world

outside of my ghetto

the only problem was I couldn't project the meet by me I

mean myself and the the colored folks in

the neighborhood who comprised my entire

universe with what the movies were

showing the color folks in the movies

were always quaking and Yassa Bossin and

shuffling huh didn't bear any

resemblance to the majestic hard-working

black folks strutting around the South

Side of Chicago where I was drunk

the men were tough and fearless and the

women were regal Queens a zillion miles

away from the army of broad bean Mami's

at the movies betrayed you then thanks

to God son and his kingdom all men equal



then suddenly in a flash like I said I

was 12 or 13 at the time and the Second

World War was just winding down it was

all revealed to me the newspapers and

the magazines in the radio that was this

talk of the new new globe coming to the

screen well what had happened was that

to win the war the government needed

everybody's help and not just white

folks and besides Hitler had given racism a bad name anyhow an effort to

win the war the government had done a

lot of flag waving to unite the nation

there was a lot of talk about the United

States being a melting pot with liberty

equality and justice for all regardless

of race creed or color except for a

little social engineering to get blacks

and women accepted in jobs formerly

all-male all-white desert


in the flushing victory over the Nazis

America actually bought into its own

propaganda he thought the US was

experiencing a flood of democracy a wave

or two of which laughed upon to the

shores of Hollywood

hence the promise of movies depicting

Negro characters more honestly more

dignified ie the new Navy

private moss reporting for duty sir but

the special assignment

if Hollywood invented a new neutral

admit it had invented the old new one in

the first place question about racism in

Hollywood films everybody likes to put

the blame on DW Griffith's and his birth of a nation a cinematic masterpiece and

the first Hollywood blockbuster it was

filled with dance and chicken chomp and

rape and quaking darkness


the nation well from the very very

beginning there was racism in American

movies even in old Thomas Edison's first

images back at the birth of cinema

blacks were only presented as

stereotypes of caricatures and sure

didn't stop there

get your parking


yes Hollywood about it they've

maintained it was all in the name of art

no harm being done just a little good clean fun well maybe kinda saw it if

you're white no harm being done good

clean fun the white folks in Hollywood

really rule the news they do Negroes any

way they wanted to

they even put on chalk or when they felt

like doing something extra stupid

and played it being black too




now he is all sisters under the skin


implicit to me is that they knew what

they were doing all along y'all so Miss

bellman yes miss lang yes looking over

one shoulder at the old Federman of the

Negro the new people was an improvement

relatively speaking of course

Wesley Epps private third Engineer

Battalion so he characters were tiny bit

more three-dimensional officer sergeant

we got the explosive necessary to fix

that bridge private matowski me Connor

made a special collection

I alone escaped it was then I captured

this man to carry my pack what is your

name sergeant major Tambu for soudanese

battalion Tinseltown went running around

with this just poked out feeling all

proud of itself about how liberal we've

been in recognizing the Negro besides

they weren't worried because of the

golden rule the American golden rule

that here

he who has the gold makes moves except

to you Ben you saying no

if it's no I want the money right away

and I hold you responsible Arnold

sometimes in new neutral movies we were

allowed to dress normal and even act as

equals people don't talk with you do

they mr. Upton given square with me on

aisle five Davis

okay mr. Roberts Black's became a

vehicle for more or less in about

justice or tolerance let's get up and


[ __ ] you know I can always with a

sympathetic central white character to

mediate the experience of the flatwoods

boss get up and walk it dirty [ __ ]

Gavin walk


all right time in the new Negro movies

more time the white character doctor or

teacher or something like that

cared for is the same paternalistic

attitude that kindly old slave owners

and Little Miss Shirley Temple but

famous for in the old Negro movies

another new Negro movie was pinky slang

term for light-skinned new rule passes

for white played by white actors there

are a lot of light-skinned blacks

tinting the states by law a few drops of

African blood means you are neatly she

falls in love with the white guy real

white guy offers to take away as long as

she doesn't tell anybody about being

colored she turns him down but all is

not lost because the kind the old white

lady leaves the plantation to pinky you

pretend wherever you are be yourself

what am i you tell me you're the ones

that set the standards you whites you're

the ones that judge people by the color

of their skins will by your own

standards by the only ones that matter

to you I'm as white as you are that's

why you all hate me what should i do dye

my face grovel and shovel say Yasim and

no girl excuse me sir but why are you

two white men ma'am and her she's

nothing but a low-down colored gal tried

to steal my man heard what you said he's

got to slap her down unless it's true

yes it's true I'm calling in my

grandmother's mrs. dicey Johnson mrs.

dicey Johnson tired of slapping both

darn cheap

then there was lost boundaries

light-skinned [ __ ] played once again by

a white actor passes himself off as a

real bona fide white man to become a

doctor should I do with this doctor

I can't ship it with the others what's

wrong with it came from somebody

chauffeur and he's as black as your hat

we could refuse him of course we can't

mix his with the white plasma and why

can't we miss Richmond well he certainly

wouldn't do it where I come from we do

it here there'll be criticism if I do

they'll be worse if you don't eventually

the truth comes out and he's ostracized

by the white folks I'm part Negro Howard

so is your mother that makes you a negro

- I'm white



we're all Negroes


host of the new films trotted out for the edification of us colored masses

deal with what was called the negro problem ... hell ... it always seemed more like a white problem to me

they treated the question of white supremacy with a little more sophistication but it was the same old racism

in Intruder in the Dust an old

black man okay because he's old and past

his sexual prime

he saved by white boy from a rabbit

southern lynch mob who fete gently into

the night without a whimper once they

realized the old black guy was being

framed I guess the moral is that lynch

mobs okay

they're just out to do the right thing

like anybody else

proud stubborn insufferable but there he


keeper my conscience our conscience aqua



the sad fact was that the insults had

only gone underground and were more

insidious and psychologically damaging

than ever

the difference of the treatment of the

Negro in the old films and the new was

like the difference in the supposedly

liberal north treatment of the Negro and

the openly hostile south which didn't

bother hide its prejudice or disdain at

least down south lynch mobs

notwithstanding you knew where you stood

Jimmy call you know sign teeth I would

even did one called black like me were

you calling me boy but I didn't think me

wear a white actor plays the white man

who put on shoe polish or something like


to experience what a black man had to go

through watch the big idea I want to

find out what it's like to be a Negro in

the south you can know how was this

possible I mean how could Hollywood

operate with such impunity this is with

the cold war raging mind you with the

Russians looking for any team in

democracies on


how can America set itself up as the

bastion of liberty and equality on one

hand and treated colored citizen so

sadly on the silver screen and get away

with it

well this brings us to the peculiar

plight of the Negro in America

although population wise there are more

black people in the United States and

most European nations they're in the

minority outnumbered by a margin of 10

to 1 by the whites but most importantly

the control of the media and the flow of

information about life in these United

States to the outside world remains

almost exclusively in white hands yet it

once there was a world in Negro hands

the tiny world of independent black

films in the South the American version

of apartheid segregation was still the

law and there were more than 300

all-black movie houses from the early

days of silent film - shortly after the

Second World War a span of nearly 50

years marginalized by the independent



existing everybody you're a big man you

can see that the work down south leads

people like home

Black movies made by African-American filmmakers were extremely popular with black audiences tired of seeing themselves portrayed as slaves, servants Hussey's, Mami's, loafers a dumb book subject run amok.

these are the only films have betrayed

them as human beings and like everybody

else they were desperate to see

themselves as he would and they hated a

black man



yes there's so much to be done you


I made them myself they have a little

kick in them but not too much

she's a lucky woman lexis their many

years yes and she's got such a good man

many of these old films were racists in

their own right

the myth of white supremacy was so

pervasive that the African American

filmmakers accepted it treating blacks

themselves as a culture or class

category rather than a racial one with

the heroes and heroines invariably

lighter skinned than the villains what's

the big idea fella didn't have that gun

I'll show you independent African

American cinema has never been

significant in the United States neither

is the number produced or the means of

distribution or the audience eventually

reached I never even saw an independent

black film growing up and I grew up in a

black ghetto on the south side of

Chicago I only became for me with Oscar

miss you and Spencer Williams and the

other early pioneers years later went on

becoming a student of film I heard

rumors of these lost masterpieces and

tracked them down


but the purely black cinema was driven

out of business by to market forces

promote the rising cost of making a

movie and dizzy oh the shrinking number

of theaters where the movies thanks to

the end of segregation could be screamed

yeah progress


the so-called golden era of independent

black films is a myth conceived to cloud

the excruciating position at the

african-american in cinema

the real history of independent black

cinema has been one of struggle studded

stars and stunted careers a courageous

File of brothers and sisters who

sacrificed to bring a few precious

seconds of black humanity to the silver


all that wonderful talent wasted well

host - Oh James deferred he still had to

eat if you a black actor in Hollywood

that meant you tossed a spear or cooked somebody for dinner oh you brought a

drink maybe I have to stay after school

that like that my dad way from high

school pretty much I don't have to row

do I - Pharaoh who elected mr.

Rittenhouse mr. Rittenhouse rid to you

he's capable sure as he always sleeps or

oh he never well he's got a girl up to

the Blue Parrot goes up there the only

ray of hope was Sam he used to be a much

better lives you remember the colored

piano playing Casablanca you're bad luck


it was the first time I ever remember seeing a black character go through an entire movie without having to kiss ass

in the ghetto the people were so proud they would make the projection stop the film and run Sam's part over and over and over again

Tsing himself you must remember kisses

just keep aside justice' throughout the

history of Hollywood there were three

sanctuary for more virulent racism one

Prince worth ironically the Hollywood

version of an all-black movie

you see the trouble with you is what I

mean is when it comes to women you just

don't know are else man you rambling

what hit you look at that gal standing

over there

there's nothing like that netbook use

talking about

better not be the second place sometimes

anyway but blacks were allowed at

dignity was the truth the pulpit being

considered a trusted ally in the

subjugation of black brings and he said

is until the civil rights movement began

anyway Negroes were given a bit of

leeway to swagger and feel good about

themselves when attending to religious

matters let the fish fry proceeded


entertainment was the third sanctuary

outside of being required to mug it up

the Negro entertainers were encouraged

to do their routines strut their stuff

to sing and dance their hearts out




now you'll hear a song you all like by a

singer you all like miss Lena Horne


well paper doll that I can call my own

a doll that other felons cannot steal

and all those flirty flirty guy

these black routines were kept

incidental to the plot so that if the

cavorting [ __ ] were too uppity for

some southern white theater owner the

offending section could be edit out of

the film without disrupting the flow of

the story


and all those flirty flirty guy

where there flirty-flirty Ives will have

to flirt with dollies


end of song beginning of story


these blackened teens were

systematically scrutinized by white

producers looking for something


and no sooner had a black person created

something new then it was preempted by

the whites who claimed it as their own




and insulting even if a white character

came upon a group of blacks doing the

routine the white person immediately

took stage sin and began to teach him

how to correctly execute what had been

stolen from them in the first place as

far as Hollywood was concerned anything

a black person can do even if you've

been doing it since birth could be done

better by a white person in three



not only that blacks were required to

stand around grinning is taking their

kinky hairs and amazing mmm Lord of

mercy look at them massive looking

little misty


well these films didn't exactly set the

box office on fire with the colored

audience I would do Abbas hand and

declared that the colored audience was

overly sensitive and they were going to

give up on trying to appease us

ungrateful belly aching [ __ ] we went

from the new Negro era to the no Negro

here for while their blacks almost

disappeared from the silver screen

but the boycott couldn't last because

Hollywood knew there was money burning

in those evany pockets and they wanted

some of it the business of America is


Hollywood had discovered that they use a

black guy as part of the group of good

guys in an action movie putting him

somewhere in the posse all platoon and

not killing him off too soon

the Negro audiences came and drove the

only problem was Hollywood wasn't too

fond of having a virile lusty black guy

running around and when it came to

sexual matters they fade wound

well why take a chance so Hollywood

split the difference

I'll take him for you I went only the

best they use Negro honks okay I'll take

the deep black one but whenever there

was a white woman around he had to lurk

in the distance sometimes ahead us

around to be taken in by white cottony

but house I did that


and a mighty hard time

but I'm on my way had a mighty hard time

but I'm on my way it's a mighty hard

climb I'm on my way

on my way

we were personas non-grata that's your

freedom there a free man just unless it

was absolutely necessary to the story

and if it were there we would be up

there bumbling Belial ready to die at

the drop of a hat for our master or

mistress thank you sir colonel boy you

see I'm a free man that's right well if

I'm free and I got a right to decide

what I'm gonna do seems to me that's

what you may not fighting for so I

reckon I'll I'll stay

lay quiet hook now catchy Jim please let

me down

you gotta go free you gotta get back to

your wife and Joey

put me down Jim we've gotta get you to a

doctor Jim the actual behavior of a

neutral character in any given show my

team to be predicated on the dramatic

needs of that film


but through the accumulation of similar

images from a zillion such films the

same behavior repeated in film film shot

after shot

a less benign picture emerges


oh why does to kill him kill him but

what's the matter now

cam kill him you imbecile




you you gonna make somebody final later

one day while making concessions to the

Negroes progress in society at large

American movies clung tenaciously to the

cliches of the past in one form or the

other all in all it was business as


the concessions Hollywood made were only

tactical in nature the strategic goal

remained the same to protect the status

quo perpetuate the myth of white

supremacy and thereby undermine the

Negroes struggle for equality in the

United States but the brothers and

sisters were born impatient with waiting

for quality

they took the speech in orderly Marge's

the good old Hollywood only heard the

rumblings as a business opportunity once

the hill decided to do a movie about

what they were sure black audiences

wanted more than anything in the world

every Negro secret desire the jewel in

the crown so to speak intermarriage

the studio figures they had a box-office

Bonanza of course they billed as a great

step forward through quality anyhow

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner is about

a black man's engagement to a white


that's the story that's the glory

equality oh never mind that the black I

was a scientist a Nobel Prize candidate

a Pulitzer Prize winning butter wouldn't

melt in his mouth type we could practically walk on water and that she was only a

pimply-faced nobody they were equally matched because she was white right

right the power is dominating how he was

not only raise specific totally white

it was gender specific totally male it's

not the thing to change that much

there's a continuing stream of books

documenting the mistreatment of

actresses at the hands as a macho

misogynist moguls of Hollywood the

Integrity's in pay part power etc in

this epoch of the second-class treatment

of women you too little and too late

things were tough for white woman

they were draconian for black woman

however rarely are black actresses even

mentioned in the books about Hollywood's

exploitation of female I've got a living child in me

you let that [ __ ] Nakia ah nobody but

you this is your baby really jail all

your you know he just might be bad as

white as you still gonna be in a nigger

yes daddy and he's gonna be something



out in the street mumbling was going to

louder and louder and the marchers were

losing their gentility in Hollywood even

has decided to open the doors to

minorities and each one hired a minority

or two and told me to behave themselves

someday one of their race might even get

a chance to actually touch the reins of

creativity 1967 I come back from France

show up at the San Francisco Film

Festival's a French delegate with a

future film I just written indirect la

permission it was pretty embarrassing

for the USA it had been 15 years since a

black director had been able to scrape

up enough to make a film and Hollywood

had never even had one


in the meantime the ramen in the streets

had grown to a lord

Hollywood hired three black directors

Ossie Davis Gordon Parks myself to prove

to the world they weren't racist of

course they tried to sabotage our

efforts by giving us substandard budgets

and gravy scripts to do nevertheless

these films were modestly successful but

it was axiomatic in the corridors of

Hollywood that no black film could be a


blockbuster success my answer was that

was how would they know they never made

a truly black film only white fantasy -

what they thought black should want to

see to piss me off


Hollywood was wondering dream

well Hollywood was clinging to

make-believe balances America was

exploding the speech were running blood

maybe wrong wasn't burning but Houston

la Chicago New York sewer I decided to

kick Hollywood's ass which brings us to

speed back like I said I didn't just

bring out of thin air feedback was a

huge financial success

it was also take no prisoners political

manifesto so much so until the Black

Panther Party who J Edgar Hoover the

hair the FBI had declared public enemy

number one

endorsed the film unconditionally and

made it required viewing for all of its

moon DOE market a sweet back

I'm sorry Ben I got you two were

attached together let's see we can get a

little air between you you step over

here the way I saw it then and still see

it nam is that the biggest obstacle to

progress in America is our condition

susceptibility to the white man's


our minds have been colonized by images

of black humiliation marginality

subservience impotence and criminality

that are ubiquitous in mainstream

American cinema these are supposed self

images seen when African Americans look

into the socio-cultural mirror of the


we've been violated confused and drained

by this colonization and from this

brutal calculated genocide the most

vicious racism has grown

And it is this starting point mind and the intention to

reverse the process that I went into

cinema in the first [ __ ] place



I think the highly vaunted visual power

of the film came from the fact that

having taught myself

I missed the technical colonization for the white aesthetic but back then the

way I put the images in the color and

utilized the sound folks call me crazy now they started calling at the

beginning of the black film aesthetic and then when the film was finished and I had to have it rated the jury was all white and I refused to go to them so they gave me an automatic automatic x-rating well that didn't bother me because as far as I was concerned I'd been going to x-rated movies all my life

Hollywood took my formula diminished the concept of Negritude to a flamboyant cartoon and reversed the political message turning it into a counter-revolutionary one and voila, out of the commercial success of Sweetback -- to make a long story short -- the blaxploitation movie was born.





but the images of black students in

defeating whites even if the whites were

slimy villains

didn't sit too well with Hollywood and

the financing began to dry up the

blaxploitation films got shoddier and

Shia and the genre finally petered out I

would no longer says that a black

audience doesn't exist now it proclaims

that a black audience only want to see

action films the simple fact is that

african-americans are not allowed to

tell African American middle class

stories without studio ie

white intervention and it's this white

perspective forced on the material in

the form of guidance that is so

disastrous to the film an African

American cine a soon realized that the

deeper into the ghetto the story is set

and the Lord down the economic scale the

more likely he or she is to be financed

i'ma trouble one can see the legacy of

the negative images of the past

still reflected in the films today


I got you I got you but I've still got a

supposedly black movie actually being a

thinly disguised showcase for white

cleverness and all the entire

paternalistic white social structure you

still got the Negro being saved by the

liberal white man

there is an ever-increasing number of

blacks working in the film industry in

the last 20 years the cost of making

independent film has been greatly

reduced and many young filmmakers have

seized the opportunity if we step back a

minute to view the ear as a whole we see

the trick is no longer getting the film

made but getting it shown and for now

distribution is in white hands they're

the gatekeepers and rule makers of what

reaches the silver screen for every

Spike Lee John Singleton Julie - there

are many other practical makers wilting

in the wings unseen cinema was born in

1896 that was the same year that

segregation became official in the

United States discrimination was

abolished in 1954 but film wise we're

still waiting whoa I'm not through don't

go taking those shoes off yet the

Treasury never stops

every era brings its new tricks the

latest is if a black filmmaker does

somehow managed to make a relevant black

film like Malcolm X a panther the box

office receipts a siphoned off at the

city pledges to other more acceptable

movies by the races exhibitors thereby

denying the profitability of such films

plus was holding the fiscal benefits

from anyone daring to confront the


Americans like to go on about money

being money neither black or white but

green but when the hand holding the

money is white and the head connected to

the hand is mired in the same old racist

attitudes to the same boss stereotypes



in my time


got mean used up behind the welfare line



because he talked about

talk about here how about beat yo

speaking about ranges kind of tons of

them well white folks not up use it

sighs cool so we feel that your bones

better put your a-game

ain't nobody wins


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