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Mario Van Peebles Talks ‘Superstition,’ Diversity & Taking A Break From Oscars [Interview]

Mario Van Peebles Talks ‘Superstition,’ Diversity & Taking A Break From Oscars [Interview]

Mario Van Peebles Talks ‘Superstition,’ Diversity & Taking A Break From Oscars [Interview]
Source: Starz
Mario Van Peebles Talks ‘Superstition,’ Diversity & Taking A Break From Oscars [Interview]
Source: Syfy

MVP: So one of my fun on-set moments was I had the actors rehearsing in the other room and meanwhile, I had my assistant get wrapped up in this shroud and lay there like the dead body. When they came back to rehearse the thing, I tapped my assistant and she jumped up and Tilly (played by Tatiana Zappardino) damn near shit. [Laughs] That was fun. I’m a clown like that so I have a lot of fun with them.

OKP: What has been like to direct your daughter, Morgana?

MVP: Directing Morgana is interesting. We don’t make mistakes in my family that just because we love them, we think they’re good at what they think they love to do, right? We know we’re like the Jacksons without all the talent. [Laughs] We know that. We’re business smart, you know what I mean? Some of us can act, some of us can direct, you know? We know our limitations. It just happens that Morgana can really act and she really fought for the role and brought a lot to it and it’s really easy to direct her because she knows it’s coming from a place of love. In fact, you’re welcome to call her, she’s a real fun chick to talk to. If you ever want to talk to her, she’s great. She’s a bad girl and she’s a hard worker. She’s not afraid to get in there. She’s also a filmmaker, she directs and she’s won some awards with her films. She’s a cool chick.

OKP: I was curious to also get your thoughts on how you’ve seen opportunities for black folks and people of color in the film industry especially because you’ve been on the acting side, the directing side and also the producing side. I was just curious to get your thoughts on how you’ve seen things change or maybe haven’t changed during your career.

MVP: I think … what’s that Dr. King quote? The arc is long…

OKP: Oh, “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.”

MVP: …But it bends towards justice. I think it is long in terms of casting, but it’s bending towards justice. I think we are getting to a place where we’re understanding that people of color are changing the face of America and we have setbacks, we have a clearly drunk driver in the White House which is a bit of a setback.

OKP: To say the least.

MVP: But to some degree, it’s also a wake up call. Democracy is more like a car, if you take your foot of the gas, it slows down. You can take your foot off the gas and take a knee at the ball game and wear an afro because it looks cool, but it would have been a good idea to vote as well. You know what I mean? To set up a way for you to do it, it’s called voting. It kind of does work. Oh, I don’t want to vote, it doesn’t make a difference. Oh yeah it made a difference. If you don’t do politics, politics will do you. That’s important.

And I think like anything we’re voting with our dollars as well. When we say, ‘Oh wait a minute, folks, some of the highest grossing movies like Fast and Furious are multicultural.’ You get black folks, white folks, racially ambiguous folks, you know what I mean? You get the whole mix, the whole world, and I think we’re starting to see that multiculty is just good business. Why leave money on the table?

I’ve always done it, from the time I did New Jack City and suddenly I have the power as filmmaker to have a say in casting where I hadn’t as an actor. I didn’t just cast all black New Jack cops to go against my New Jack gangsters. I cast an Asian brother, Russell Wong, Judd Nelson, Ice-T, and then I put the attorney that takes down Nino, made her a sister (played by Phyllis Yvonne Stickney). So it was a black woman and I played the police commissioner. If you look at Posse, it’s predominantly an African American cast but one of the funniest characters was Little J (played by Stephen Baldwin).

OKP: Very underrated movie by the way, I really enjoyed that. Sorry to get off track, I just really like that movie a lot, so I just wanted to tell you that. I really enjoyed Panther, too, I grew up watching that.

MVP: Wow, so you know your Van Peebles history.

OKP: These are things I grew up watching and I think my parents kind of understood the power of images so they wanted me to watch movies that had people who looked like me; it makes a big difference.

MVP: That is really cool because we grew up wanting to be the successes we see. Long before we saw it in the White House, we’ll see a black president on television. When apartheid fell, my two favorite shows were The Cosby Show and Miami Vice, which had a white leading man and a black leading man. So that makes a difference. So I think that little by little it’s bending towards justice, it’s bending towards no taxation without representation. It’s bending towards a visual representation of us in front of the camera and slowly, slowly behind the camera.

You’re seeing more and more writers, directors, little by little we’re starting to understand that those are important jobs to have. We’re seeing powerful smart women like Issa Rae and Ava DuVernay and the birth of the new nerd. From Donald Glover in Atlanta to Awkward Black Girl or Chewing Gum out of England.

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My long answer is I think the diversity of casting is bending towards justice, but I hope that—and that’s a wonderful thing—but if it’s not bending towards consciousness, it doesn’t matter.

OKP: Could you elaborate on what you mean?

MVP: What am I saying? I’m saying is that it’s not enough that black folks get in power. If we get in power or get some money and we just buy a car that pollutes and we kill the planet as quick as the dominant culture did prior to us, we’re now imitating a behavior that leads to human genocide.

We now have to learn to live together as brothers and sisters in harmony with nature; that’s part of the other subtext of Superstition. There are other awarenesses, not just a racial line, a bigger consciousness that we better get on board with quick. To do that, we may have to embrace infernals and embrace people that don’t look like us and deal with and get along with people even when we don’t always agree with their choices.

Some of those choices are hard choices to make in life and that’s part of the fun of the show.

Superstition will air its season finale on Thursday, Jan. 18, at 11:00 p.m. EST / 10:00 p.m. CST.

Danielle A. Scruggs is a Chicago-based photographer and writer who runs the website Black Women Directors and is also the Director of Photography at the Chicago Reader, an award-winning alt-weekly newspaper. Follow her on Twitter at @dascruggs and view her site at daniellescruggs.com.

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