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Mario Van Peebles’ ‘We the Party’ spotlights urban teens

Colette Greenstein
Colette Greenstein has been a contributing arts & entertainment writer for the Banner since 2009. VIEW BIO
Mario Van Peebles’ ‘We the Party’ spotlights urban teens
‘We the Party’ cast (L-R): Ben J (New Boyz), Mighty Mike, Quincy Brown, Katarina Garcia, Patrick Cage II and Carlos Olivero (Menudo). (Photo: graph by Brenda Sisa)

Author: graph by Jahari Renée, 2010‘We the Party’ cast (L-R): Ben J (New Boyz), Mighty Mike, Quincy Brown, Katarina Garcia, Patrick Cage II and Carlos Olivero (Menudo).

Actor, writer, director and son of the legendary Melvin Van Peebles, Mario Van Peebles has long since forged his own path in the family business.

Van Peebles made his directorial debut with the gangster film “New Jack City” in 1991 that made the character Nino Brown a part of American pop culture. He followed that up with “Posse” in 1993, which brought the recognition of black cowboys to the mainstream, and “Panther” in 1995, which chronicled the rise of the Black Panther Party to power.

Most recently, Van Peebles directed several episodes of the Showtime series “Boss,” starring Kelsey Grammer, and the coming-of-age film “We the Party”.

“We the Party” is a revealing look at contemporary youth culture, under the age of Obama. Set amidst the latest trends in music, dance and fashion in an ethnically diverse Los Angeles high school, the film focuses on five friends as they deal with issues of love, sex, prom, peer pressure, college and finding out who they are as individuals.

The film features an eclectic cast of actors and musicians including Snoop Dogg, YG, The New Boyz, The Rej3ctz, Michael Jai White, Salli Richardson-Whitfield, Moises Arias, as well as Orlando Brown and his dad Melvin Van Peebles.

Van Peebles’ four children, Mandela, Makaylo, Maya and Morgan also appear in the multicultural comedy. Van Peebles recently took some time to chat with the Banner about “We the Party,” how the film came to fruition and his family.

You made this movie because of the way teenagers access information today and how quickly they receive that information. What are you hoping to accomplish with this film?

You know I believe that kids come through you and not from you. They will sort of let you know who they are. As a parent, it’s up to us to guide them and help them become the best version of themselves, the best version of what they want to be, not the way you want them to be.

Music seems to be a big part of your movies.  Is it a big part of your life as well?

I suppose it is. I think about how my dad uses music — how music was a third character in the movie. My dad had a secretary who knew Earth, Wind and Fire and their music was used in “Sweetback.” I grew up in an independent-filmmaking family and music is so much part of filmmaking.

One of the groups my kids turned me on to was The Rej3ctz. They performed the music in the prom scene and now they have. 62 million hits on YouTube. Music is a big part of this.

You’ve spoken to a lot of high schools and universities that have a high urban population about education. You’ve brought your kids along with you. Why is it important for them to be involved?

My grandfather had a tailor shop and my dad worked there. My father saw him effect change through the tailor shop. I involved my kids in my work because it’s good to be around them.

One of the things we know is that kids who grow up with parents who haven’t done much leads to kids who don’t do much. We do a lot of community service in the family. You can teach kids a lot of things, but sometimes it’s hard to teach them heart.

I want them to know how lucky they are. If you’re lucky, you have three loves in your life: love what you do, love who you do it with and love what you say with it.

The Roxbury International Film Festival screens “We the Party” this Saturday, Feb. 18, at UMass Boston’s Campus Center at 8:30 p.m. Tickets cost $2 and can be purchased online at or at the door. For more information, visit: