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Watermelon Man (15) + Cinq cent balles

a man and a woman lie in bed next to each other talking

A classic of 70s African American cinema, Watermelon Man is the second feature film by legendary director Melvin Van Peebles.

Best known for Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, Van Peebles career has always been informed by a strong commitment to the spirit of independent cinema and despite being a studio picture, his distinct approach is apparent throughout.

Watermelon Man tells the story of a bigoted white American man (expertly played by stand-up comic Godfrey Cambridge, donning whiteface for the role) who wakes up to discover to his horror, that he has turned into a Black man. The film takes this fantastical concept and manages to infuse both a sense of empathy for the predicament of the central character alongside functioning as a social critique of US race relations and Black radicalism.

Cinq cent balles is a rarely screening early short by Van Peebles made during his time in Paris which tells the story of a child trying to retrieve a 500 francs note.

Tagged with: Cinema

France Dir Melvin Van Peebles 1961 12 mins

USA Dir Melvin Van Peebles 1970 98 mins


ScreenNotes: Watermelon Man

Barbican Cinema curator Matthew Barrington explores the history behind this classic of 70s African American cinema, directed by legendary director Melvin Van Peebles.

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