Don’t Play Us Cheap: The Sacredness of Saturday Night, or the Gospel According to Melvin Van Peebles
When blacks throw a party, they don’t play!Melvin Van Peebles, Don’t Play Us Cheap, 1972
Like so many multitalented legends of African American culture, including James Baldwin, W. E. B. Du Bois, Zora Neale Hurston, and Toni Morrison, Melvin Van Peebles maintained a deep love of theater and used the medium to tell stories about Black life. In fact, of all these icons, Van Peebles experienced perhaps the greatest commercial success as a theater artist. Though many cite his filmmaking, specifically his stereotype-busting, renegade 1971 sensation Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, as the primary evidence of his genius, his work for the stage was just as trailblazing. But despite his resounding success on and off Broadway, as well as in regional theaters throughout the United States, Van Peebles’s musicals somehow barely receive a mention in many discussions about his pioneering and multifaceted career. And yet to fully appreciate his role in Black culture, one must understand his connections to the world of theater, particularly the history of Black Broadway musicals.
Last Hurrah for Chivalry: Long Live Chivalric Brotherhood
A pivotal early film from legendary Hong Kong director John Woo, this martial-arts classic explores the heroic ethos of youxia, Chinese warriors willing to sacrifice their lives to fight for justice and fulfill their promises.
India Song and Baxter, Vera Baxter: In the Thrall of Duras
One of the towering figures of postwar French literature, Marguerite Duras was also an innovative filmmaker whose rarefied cinematic style dared audiences to see less and listen more.
Hollywood Shuffle: Against Type
In his directorial debut, Robert Townsend channeled his frustrations with the typecasting of Black actors, resulting in a satire whose hilarious critique of Hollywood still resonates today.
Romeo and Juliet: Star-Crossed Spectacle
Entrenched as an authoritative adaptation, this Oscar-winning hit is still admired, taught, and studied today for its spectacular re-creation of the past and its reinvention of the Shakespearean spoken word.