In his new movie, “We the Party,” Mario Van Peebles has created a different type of teen movie. It has the fun, hijinks and high-energy music that you might expect from a film in that genre, but what sets it apart from other teen movies is the raw, incredibly accurate dialogue and an acknowledgment of serious issues in an engaging, non-preachy way.
The teenagers in the movie talk like real teenagers do. The high school students at the center of the story casually call each other “nigga,” refer to certain girls as “doo-doo mamas” and tackle a number of issues from teen sex to the excesses of capitalism to racial profiling.
“I wanted to make this as real as possible. ‘We the Party’ has an R rating because teenagers don’t have PG conversations amongst themselves,” said Van Peebles in an interview with the AmNews. “With not one white face in it, the Hudlin brothers did a great job with ‘House Party.’ Before that, ‘The Breakfast Club,’ a movie with not one Black face in it, also made its mark as a great teen movie. I wanted to create something that speaks to right now.”
What Van Peebles came up with is a coming-of-age tale about five teenage boys who attend a diverse high school in L.A. The main character, Hendrix, played by Van Peeble’s 17-year-old son, Mandela Van Peebles, has some typical teenage boy goals, like taking the prettiest girl in school to the prom, losing his virginity and earning enough money to get a car, which he does by throwing parties and charging an entry fee.
Turns out Hendrix is a lot like Mandela. “My dad is very frugal. He gives us the same amount of money every year for our birthdays. We don’t even get a cost-of-living increase,” said Mandela.
“I’m not raising any spoiled-ass Hollywood brats,” chimed in dad Van Peebles.
“My brother and I put our money together,” explained Mandela. “We bought snacks, got a DJ, invited a bunch of people over and charged $10 per person. We needed to save up to get a car.”
Van Peebles said that his children were the inspiration for the movie–four of his kids appear in the film–and he was able to nail down the dialogue so well because he actually went to clubs with his kids. According to Van Peebles, he went “incognegro,” dressed in skinny jeans and a hat pulled down low.
“We made sure he walked in several minutes after we went in,” noted Mandela.
While there, Van Peebles was able to eavesdrop on conversations and get not only the slang, but the context, mannerisms and the latest dance moves.
But “We the Party” goes beyond partying and hormones. Throughout the film is the thread of the importance of being an authentic, intelligent person. The threat of the criminal justice system, especially as it relates to Black males, is also touched upon. The idea that “smart is the new gangsta” is something Van Peebles wants kids to take away from the film.
The movie was shot long before the Trayvon Martin tragedy, but interestingly enough, one character CC (played by rapper YG) is perceived as “the bad kid” in school, and his hoodie is an everyday wardrobe choice that adds to his menacing persona.
“When you do things based on reality, you often find real-
life incidents that reflect the art. When my dad made ‘Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song’ back in ’71 about a Black man who was beaten by the LAPD, some people thought it wasn’t realistic. Fast-forward to the video of Rodney King being beaten, and now people get it. You had a film about it 20 years before the video,” mused Van Peebles.
“CC’s story in the movie shows how important it is to not pre-judge people. He wore a hoodie throughout most of the movie and that’s part of the reason why people misjudged him. My character eventually befriends him. You can’t just judge people without getting to know them,” added Mandela.
Van Peebles financed this movie independently and paid himself $1 for directing and $10 for writing it. He also acts in the film. Other familiar faces in the movie include Melvin Van Peebles, Michael Jai White, Snoop Dogg, Tiny Lister, Quincy Brown and Salli Richardson-Whitfield.
“We the People” is a fun and entertaining movie with a positive message that teens and adults can enjoy equally. Mandela in particular turns gives a charismatic, endearing and believable performance. Hopefully, we’ll see more of him in the coming years.
“We the Party” opens nationwide April 6. For more information about the movie, visit www.facebook.com/wethepartymovie or search for the hashtag #WetheParty on Twitter.