Kam Williams | 8/1/2012, 9 a.m.
Mario Van Peebles was born in Mexico City on Jan. 15, 1957 to Maria Marx and legendary filmmaker Melvin Van Peebles.
He made his acting debut as a teenager in his father’s film “Sweet Sweetback’s Badasssss Song” in 1971, before embarking on an enduring career that includes “New Jack City,” playing Stokely Carmichael in “Panther” and Malcolm X in “Ali.”
Mario has also stepped behind the camera to direct a number of films, most notably, “New Jack City,” “Badasssss!” and “Posse.”
His latest offering, “We the Party,” is a family affair. His 18 year-old son, Mandela stars in the film and it features his father and four other children, Makaylo, Maya, Morgana and Marley, in supporting roles.
Here, Mario and Mandela talk about the coming-of-age comedy which might be best thought of as an African American version of “American Pie.”
What interested you in making “We the Party?”
Mario Van Peebles: Half of it came from just witnessing the party all around me. I had this cool constituency of five teenagers growing up, listening to all this new music and dealing with all the “isms” that are still alive. They’re trying to climb through: lookism, classism, sexism and racism. Then, they literally threw a huge party at the house for one of their birthdays.
Mandela Van Peebles: Yeah, one of my brothers and I have our birthdays around the same time, and my father wasn’t giving us as big an allowance as others in our age group. So, we figured we should pool our money, hire a DJ, hire security, order some pizza and refreshments and charge $10 a head. It was amazing! We had at least 500 people show up.
Mario: But it never got out of control like “Project X” because “dad” was there. I patrolled the premises with my video camera, and tried to keep the hormones from raging out of control. The way these kids behave, it sort of looks like safe sex out there on the floor. The last time I danced liked that I had a baby nine months later. So, inspired by real events, I started piecing the story together.
How true to life is the movie?
Mandela: A lot of the movie was inspired by real life, but some of it is fiction. For instance, I would get so mad if my brother really got a car and I didn’t.
How similar are you to your character, Hendrix?
Mandela: He’s the same kind of kid as me. He’s stylish, but he’s not the coolest kid or the weirdest kid. He’s kind of in his own world.
Was it weird being directed by your dad?
Mandela: No, it wasn’t, because I’ve been directed by him almost my whole life. That’s 18 years. However, it was important to know the difference between my dad and Mario Van Peebles, the director.
You gotta show up early… you gotta know your lines… and I had to set an example for the other actors, so they could see that even the director’s son was always prepared and very professional.