Articles: A Conversation With Melvin Van Peebles, Gordon Parks & Ossie Davis




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Laurence Washington

In celebration of Black History Month, the Denver-based cable channel Black Starz!, took a historic step in getting three of the most influential black cinema talents Gordon Parks ("Shaft" ‘71), Melvin Van Peebles ("Sweet Sweetback" ‘71) and Ossie Davis ("Cotton Comes to Harlem" ‘70) to sit down in one room to discuss their groundbreaking careers.

"UNSTOPPABLE" (Premieres) 8 p.m. est. Feb. 13, on Black Starz!) is one of the last interviews Ossie Davis, 87, gave before his death on Feb. 4, 2005. Still working, he was making a film called "Retirement."

The program is hosted by notable filmmaker Warrington Hudlin, ("House Party" ‘90) whose early film aspirations were inspired by Parks after seeing "Shaft" in high school. Hudlin later met the director in the theater’s lobby signing autographs and was surprised he was black.

"Shaft" and later "Sweet Sweetback" solidified his desire to become a filmmaker.

Hudlin leads Parks, Davis and Van Peebles in an hour long discussion of how they managed to break into an industry that was not accessible to blacks.

Melvin Van Peebles tried to break into Hollywood with a series of short films, but the industry wasn’t interested. However, the French loved them and encouraged Van Peebles. So he moved to Paris to pursue his art, which was later accepted by Hollywood.

Theatrically trained, Ossie Davis began honing his career as a writer and an actor with the Rose McClendon Players in Harlem. Five years later, the thespian made it to Broadway where he starred in several plays including "A Raisin in the Sun" and made his film debut with Sidney Poitier in "No Way Out." (‘50).

Photographer Gordon Parks, who bought his first camera in a pawnshop for $12, became the first photographer to receive a fellowship from the Julius Rosewald Foundation. He became a photographer for both Vogue and Life magazines. Parks’ films "The Learning Tree" (‘69) and Shaft ignited the 1970’s black movies.

Hudlin explores the trio’s collective experiences in filmmaking, photography, writing, producing and the Civil Rights movement.

"UNSTOPPABLE" is highlighted with interviews from contemporary filmmakers Julie Dash, Nelson George, Mario Van Peebles and Reginald Hudlin who offer their own insights on the trio’s influence on black cinema, their careers and their personal lives.

"My father said he’s just not going to complain about the movies out there," says Mario Van Peebles, referring to early black actors typecast as strictly mammies and bucks. "He said, "I’m going to do something about them. I’m going to turn on the lights, the camera and the action.’ He’s that kind of cat."

When: (Premieres) 8 p.m. est. Feb. 13
Where: Black Starz!

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