Mario Van Peebles talks to Dallas South News about his movie “Fair Game”
By Lorrie Irby Jackson – Reporter
If you’re under the impression that Barack Obama’s election is proof of a post-racial and equal America, Mario Van Peebles has news for you.
The more things change, the more they seem to stay the same, and in his searing, insightful documentary, Fair Game, which is re-airing on cable network TV One Sunday, Apr. 4, examines the unique and insidious issues that have persistently affected the African-American Diaspora through discussions with a diverse array of professionals, Black scholars, and other prominent entertainers (ranging from Drs. Alvin Poussaint and Cornel West to Chris Rock and Ice Cube).
While the film drops harrowing statistics plaguing the black community—the education and achievement gaps, the disproportionate incarceration rates and the diminishes presence of fatherhood— it also speaks to hope and healing for those willing to make an effort to help themselves and others.
In a recent chat, the 53-year-old actor and director, who just finished work on the upcoming film, “Black, White and Blues,” explained how the past affects the present, where the new generation can point their skills to keep jobs in the new millennium and how watching shows like ABC’s “Lost” can create a better nation.
Lorrie Irby Jackson: I enjoyed and learned a lot from your powerful documentary, Mr. Peebles—some of those same facts about prisons, colleges and drug abuse are the same ones that I give to my own teenager.
Mario Van Peebles: Glad you liked it, thank you. “Fair Game” is more for the adults, but there is a version that we did for the youth called “Bring Your ‘A Game’.” That’s the one your son should watch.
LIJ: Anyone can recite the same facts over and over, but your film provides a cultural context to those numbers, such as the looming father hunger’ that affects too many of our kids.
MVP: Exactly. I think that we have to be careful not to blur the line between personal responsibility and social responsibility. I have to do my best to parent, nurture and do my best to provide for my kids, which is the personal responsibility side of it. But we also need policies in place to ensure that these men can have decent homes, secure jobs and the proper education as well, hence the social responsibility.
And what’s deep too is black fathers, a few generations ago, weren’t allowed to be the husband or the father; the wife and children were the property of the slave master. It is a generational issue that we must address, and most of all, we just need to have only the kids that we can afford and love.
LIJ: Barack Obama’s election was a historical event, but it’s only been 40-odd years since the Civil Rights Bill was passed and you can’t tell some folks that America still has a long way to go as far as race relations. Why do many still deny this fact?
MVP: White America is built on the backs of slavery. They’ve generationaly profited off it for centuries now, and even though we have an African-American president, there’s still no equality from the top to bottom. Think about it, we represent 13% of the US population, and less than ½ of 1% of America’s wealth. Less than one half of one percent.
So if America has a cold, we got pneumonia (laughs). You’ll see the roots of that in the grandfather clauses that were put in place to keep us from acquiring that wealth, banning our ancestors from education, land ownership; we still have to deal with it. And one person (President Obama) isn’t able to correct all those ‘isms’ in our society, but each one of us can bring a light and then collectively, we can bring the dawn.
LIJ: Well-said. I also appreciate the work that you are doing with green technology and what The First Lady is doing by trying to reduce the number of ‘food deserts’ in our poorer communities. Those actions go a long way in keeping present and new generations both healthy and employed.
MVP: Absolutely: I got the honor of hanging out with Van Jones (green technology pioneer and former green jobs advisor for the White House in 2009), and what he was talking about was switching over from fossil fuels to solar and wind energy. After all, the sun and wind ain’t going away, but oil and coal are.
They can’t outsource building solar panels for homes to China, they have to do that here, so that gives brothers a prime opportunity to get trained in this emerging field and stay working. The question is, however, can we get some brothers to pick up the caulk gun instead of the handgun? That’s the choice that they’re going to have to make.
As for what Mrs. Obama is doing, yes, we need to end food apartheid, killing ourselves with our knife and fork. Indigenous people knew to live in harmony with nature did, and society has to relearn how to do that.
Lorrie Irby Jackson: When is TV One going to re-air the special you had about turning your entire home and family eco-friendly, Mario’s Green House?
Mario Van Peebles: (Laughter) Filming that was a lot of fun. You’ll have to call TV One and ask them when they’re airing it again though, I can’t tell you.
LIJ: How do you feel President Obama’s doing so far, and what do you think of the dissent he’s been experiencing lately?
MVP: I still wake up every morning proud that he is our President. I’m still in awe of that achievement. As for the opposition, certain people who have misinformation are just willing to vote against their own best interest, everything is socialized. They complain about health care? What about the roads, the hospitals, the fire departments? Practically everything is socialized.
I watched a film not too long ago called “Outfoxed” (a 2004 documentary), and in the movie, they did a test surveying which networks got the political facts correct. If the audience watched the BBC network, they got a lot of facts right, and if they watched CNN, they got a lot of facts right, but they regularly watched FOX News—-or what I call FOX fake News—they learned the least amount of facts. They only push the Republican agenda, so if that’s the network you watch, you’ll have a skewed view of the world. That test audience believed, for example, that there was a connection between Al Qaeda and Iraq. It was unbelievable.
The next thing they have to do (in the Obama Administration) is economic reform. We’re still living with the laws that brought us to the crisis. So their protests are astonishing. I was working with a cat the other day, a polish guy, and he told me, ‘Eighteen years ago, I just knew there would be a black president. When I looked at my kid’s posters, I saw Michael Jordan, Michael Jackson and Prince, and they grew up believing that Bill Cosby was the world’s funniest father and that ‘Miami Vice’ was the coolest show. So, since they didn’t have the racial biases that the previous generation had, I knew it would be only a matter of time before we had a black president.’”
LIJ: Before we wrap it up, inquiring minds want to know….what was it like for you to direct a recent episode of “Lost”?
MVP: (cracks up) I did “Lost” because it makes you think, and stimulating programs can create thinking voters, which, ultimately, leads to a stronger democracy. I was proud to be a part of it, it’s an awesome show.
Lorrie Irby Jackson is a freelance journalist based in Dallas and has covered entertainment professionally for several years, writing many articles for The Dallas Morning News. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org