MELVIN VAN PEEBLES’S now-legendary Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (which he wrote, directed, produced, and starred in) was the first film to show a black man kill a white man—two white cops, in fact—and get away with it. Rejected by the Hollywood system, it became required viewing for members of the Black Panther Party. But its appeal reached far beyond the radical fringe, as the box-office figures attest: Made independently on a shoestring budget of $150,000 in 1971, Sweet Sweetback grossed over $15 million in the United States, despite opening in only two theaters initially and, because of its X rating, being restricted to the sort of inner-city grind house where tickets cost a dollar. The success of the movie inspired an entire genre, and some two hundred blaxploitation films (as the NAACP dubbed them) were produced before the form petered out mid-decade. Nevertheless, Van Peebles,

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