How to Eat Your Watermelon in White Company (and Enjoy It) Film Details
Overview: Feature-length documentary on renegade filmmaker, novelist, musician and theater impresario, Melvin Van Peebles.
Review: Rennaisance man Melvin Van Peebles is profiled in this exceptional documentary, which also looks at broader issues of race in America and Europe in terms of the conflicts within the black race concerning representation of values. Van Peebles is best known for his revolutionary (in more than one sense) early 1970s film “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadaaass Song” (see my comments on that film’s page). Prior to seeing this film I was also aware of his work on Broadway but I had not seen footage of these shows, nor was I aware of his work in France prior to doing “Watermellon Man” and “Sweetback” in the USA. So this film is very educational concerning Van Peebles for anyone but perhaps his most dedicated fans. But what’s really great is how it opens up our view of him as a human being, warts and all. I suppose some might find his attitude towards women to be admirable, but most will be either repulsed or amused. He apparently is quite open about the fact that he will not commit to a monogamous relationship. He keeps his love life very organized however — his daughter says that he has one girl for Tuesday night, another for Wednesday night — “and if you’re Teusday night’s girl, you better not call on Wednesday”. Of course the film features the predictable array of talking heads associated with black music and film — Gil Scott-Herron, Spike Lee, Elvis Mitchell, Gordon Parks — talking about how influential Van Peebles was. But I really thought the best aspect of the film was the interviews with Van Peebles’ children and the scenes showing Van Peebles’ at work on his film “Le Conte du ventre plein” (US title: Bellyfull) and working in the studio on the records. The film takes special notice of Van Peebles’ anti-establishment humor — and by that I mean both anti-white and anti-black establishment. He delights in making a mockery of black academia and the black intelligentsia’s obsession with avoiding stereotypes and presenting the black man in a “positive” light. Van Peebles’ attitude is similar to that expressed later by black comedians from Pryor to Chappelle (with his famous “fried chicken” sketch in particular) — “If I like eating watermelon, why shouldn’t I eat the watermelon and enjoy it? Why should I be ashamed of who I am?” Van Peebles talks about buying a spray can of watermelon scented aerosol. He would spray it in his office before white associates would come by. Then they would take a few sniffs and say “wow, Mel, that smells like….. (awkward pause)…. cantaloupes”. Van Peebles even at his current advanced age never seems to cease to delight at “goosing” people’s preconceptions and shocking them out of their sensibilities. An excellent bio-doc — should be entertaining and informative to Van Peebles’ fans and should also introduce a great number of people to this man’s pioneering work.
Language: English, French
Duration: 85 min
Also known as: Melvin Van Peebles: I zoi mou me tous lefkous,How to Eat Your Watermelon in White Company (and Enjoy It),Jak zjeść arbuza w towarzystwie białych i mieć z tego uciechę