From New Jack City, Panther and Solo:
Mario Van Peebles may be too handsome for his own good. His eyes sparkle amid high cheekboned, delicate features that showcase his multicultural lineage. Looking at what could almost be a parody of a hunk, one could easily presume that this actor MUST be vain and shallow--though nothing in his interviews confirms this impression. Perhaps it was inevitable that he should decide to redirect some of his energies behind the camera. In any event, the young hyphenate heeded the advice of his illustrious father, the breakthrough black writer-director-producer Melvin Van Peebles, to first learn the business end of show business. Van Peebles made his first film appearance--as a naked 10-year-old atop an equally unclothed adult woman--playing the youthful version of the randy protagonist of his father's seminal "Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song" (1971). He subsequently avoided the spotlight for the most part (except for a role in the 1971 CBS busted TV pilot "The Cable Car Murder/Cross Current") and graduated from Columbia University with a degree in economics before landing work in finance. Van Peebles set up limited partnerships for a film investment firm, worked on Wall Street on the commodities exchange and served two years as a budget analyst for then NYC Mayor Edward Koch. Van Peebles' good looks earned him assignments as a Ford model and, by the mid-1980s, he had amassed some stage credits and starred in the films "South Bronx Heroes" (1983) and "Exterminator 2" (1984). The former was a well-meaning if inelegantly crafted social drama for which the actor provided additional dialogue while the latter was an inferior action sequel featuring Van Peebles as X, a messianic gang leader. The affable actor's breakthrough feature supporting role came in Clint Eastwood's "Heartbreak Ridge" (1986) where he played a glib and sassy Marine opposite the leathery star. Van Peebles performed several songs for the film as he had for "Rappin'" (1985). He also sang lead and/or rhythm vocals on three albums on the Stax and Atlantic Records labels. 5Van Peebles associate produced, scripted and starred in the poorly received farce "Identity Crisis" (1989), under his father's direction, playing a white gay designer whose spirit is trapped in the body of a young black rapper. He graduated to helming features with "New Jack City (1991), a slick and commercially successful saga of the urban drug wars. The film gave a breakthrough role to Wesley Snipes as a vicious drug kingpin, and on its release was the highest-grossing feature film directed by an African-American. Van Peebles also helmed the largely black Western "Posse" (1993), a less successful outing which strove to evoke Sergio Leone (the look), Sam Peckinpah (stylized and plentiful violence) and John Ford (traditional values). For his next directorial outing, he teamed with his father to produce the elder Van Peebles' adaptation of his unpublished novel "Panther" (1995), a fictionalized account of the rise of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense in the late 60s and early 70s. The director was granted creative control in return for bringing "Panther" in for under $9 million. (It reportedly cost $7 million.) Father and son opted for a young and relatively unknown cast and but also appeared in cameos. (Mario was Stokely Carmichael and Melvin was an old jail bird.) The film was roundly criticized by political partisans of both the left and right for the substantial liberties it took with the historical record for dramatic purposes. Reviews were mixed and box-office returns were disappointing but the film was an absorbing and well-crafted demonstration of Van Peebles' increasing skill as a director. Interestingly, as a filmmaker he owes a greater debt to the coolly impersonal style of TV drama than to the bold stylistics favored by the elder Van Peebles. Indeed TV auteur Steven J Cannell may have been at least as important a professional mentor to Van Peebles as his famous father.
The Internet Movie Database
Also check out
Mario Van Peebles: The Unofficial Web Site