As you begin to watch Mario Van Peebles’ new movie, “We the Party,” which opens in limited release Friday, your first thought is that it is the quintessential schoolboy movie with all the requisite pranks–mirrors on the shoes to look under girl’s dresses, finding a hot date for the prom, a preoccupation with getting sex, and learning the intricacies of avoiding the school bully without being horribly embarrassed.
But as the end credits roll, and you start thinking about what you saw, it’s obvious that there are layers to this film that you have to consider.
Shot in the “hood,” this 104-minute, independent, R-rated flick (mainly for language), features a multicultural cast of veteran actors and newcomers attending fictional Baldwin Hills High, which anybody who has lived in or around Crenshaw Boulevard should recognize.
The main characters are five friends who plot typical male high school adventures, but in the process the audiences sees them grow and mature.
According to director Van Peebles, father of five teenagers, the idea for the movie was born out of writer’s block.
“A while ago, I was writing a new script or rather trying to write one, but my teenagers were upstairs blasting music with the volume at “11.” I went up to have them dial down the fun, but was quickly entranced by the new dances they and their friends were doing.”
His kids used that interest to convince him to allow them to go to an all-ages club. Like any good parent, he countered with: “Hell no, unless of course you take me with you.”
When the negotiation dust cleared, the Van Peebles clan was off to a club, with dad riding shotgun as . . . head of security. What followed was a crash course in contemporary teen culture that prompted the veteran filmmaker to scrap his stuck-in-the-mud script for one that took an authentic look at teens growing up in the era of the first Black president–where smart is the new gangsta rap and it’s OK for a 20-year-old almost-dropout to stay around to finish high school.
After seeing the film, Van Peebles believes teen moviegoers will be considering a number of things.
“It depends on their level of consciousness. Some may come out more economically conscious and may think about going to college and owning the record label they sing for. There are a lot of lessons,” added Van Peebles.
One of the main ones is you can’t be afraid to advance the conversation with your youth audience. “It’s a conversation society has already started. They are being hit with hyper-materialism and hyper-sexuality. In the context of the movie, this is what kids are going through.”
And in order to keep that cutting-edge element in the movie, Van Peebles and his running buddy Mark Cohen funded the film themselves.
“I paid myself a dollar to direct it and $10 to write it,” jokes Van Peebles, who added that the movie cost under $2 million to make. He laughingly adds that if it doesn’t pull in audiences, he might be out on the corner selling tube socks.
Another interesting element to the film is the family connections that play out.
Van Peebles and his children–Mandela, Makaylo, Maya and Morgana–team up with his dad and their granddad, the legendary filmmaker Melvin Van Peebles, for the project, as well as the sons of Snoop Dogg (one of the D.J.s) and P. Diddy, and some of the Wayans offspring. Snoop also has a sizable role as brother to C.C., the 20-year-old who refuses to drop out, played by Compton-born rapper YG.
When it comes to determining when the movie’s a success, Van Peebles danced around the question a bit before noting that “Hollywood is supportive of films with dresses and wigs. This is an alternative (the real thing; combination of “Project X” and “Akeelah and the Bee”). If it does well, We’re sure to hear about it.”
“We the Party” opens in a total of 13 cities during the first two weeks, including Los Angeles, D.C., New York and Chicago in week one.