This article examines the production of Watermelon Man (1970), director Melvin Van Peebles’s only Hollywood film. While the film is often overlooked in scholarly circles in favor of Van Peebles’s more famous Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971), Watermelon Man demonstrates that degree to which Van Peebles was able to produce a film that was aesthetically and narratively subversive in spite of the studio’s attempts to turn the film into a standard, mainstream comedy. Further, combining historical and theoretical approaches, including details about the film’s production from Van Peebles himself, the article contends that the film provides a link between the worlds of Hollywood and black independent film production. Finally, the article explores the ways that Van Peebles uses conventions of Hollywood filmmaking, including racial stereotypes, to criticize mainstream America’s own racism and Hollywood’s role in maintaining it.
SUBVERTING HOLLYWOOD FROM THE INSIDE OUT: MELVIN VAN PEEBLES'S WATERMELON MAN
Racquel Gates is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Media Culture at the College of Staten Island, CUNY. Her work focuses on representations of race in popular culture and has appeared in Antenna, In Media Res, the anthology Watching While Black: Centering the Television of Black Audiences, and the collection Saturday Night Live and American TV. Currently, she is completing work on a book manuscript that examines African American representations of whiteness in popular culture.
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Racquel Gates; SUBVERTING HOLLYWOOD FROM THE INSIDE OUT: MELVIN VAN PEEBLES'S WATERMELON MAN. Film Quarterly 1 September 2014; 68 (1): 9–21. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/fq.2014.68.1.9
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