DVD Review: How To Eat Your Watermelon in White Company (and Enjoy It)

How To Eat DVDSTUDIO: Music Box | DIRECTOR: Joe Angio
RELEASE DATE: 2/2/16 | PRICE: DVD $19.98
BONUSES: new video interview with Melvin Van Peebles, three TV news commentaries by Van Peebles, two live concert performances
SPECS: NR | 85 min. | Documentary | 1.78:1 widescreen | stereo

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie  | Audio | Video | Overall

How To Eat Your Watermelon in White Company (and Enjoy It) was originally an essay written by one Melvin Van Peebles, an African-American 60’s iconoclast who hammered his own path in the fight for racial equality. While Martin Luther King was dreaming about racial harmony, Van Peebles was more inclined to bust his way through American culture via a career that spanned films, Broadway plays, songs (which he also performed), books, television rants and more—all in his own unique fashion. Most of his material might be considered offensive today—hell, it was considered offensive back then—but it made an irreversible mark on black culture (and, in turn, mainstream culture). All of this is covered in Joe Angio’s documentary of the same name.

While the film itself is basically a hodge-podge of interviews and archival footage, the material is assembled well, paying long-overdue respect to a true maverick. Featuring interviews from artists like Spike Lee and Gil-Scott Heron, you come to understand just how influential this man was to everyone that came after him. Van Peebles was a restless, fiery soul who had something to say from the get-go. His classic 1971 film Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song single-handedly created the entire “Blaxploitation” genre though, as the documentary points out, Baadasssss was a politically-charged call to revolution; Hollywood’s watered-down rip-offs removed the politics and played up the senseless drugs and glam culture that remains common in hip hop culture today. Sweetback is the template from which the entertainment industry’s billion-dollar co-opting sprung.

Melvin-Van-Peebles1_optWhat makes Van Peebles’ story so fascinating, though, is the layers of complexity the man contained; he was equal parts artist, activist, playboy, entrepreneur, and bon vivant. Despite his vast artistic accomplishments, Melvin gives us the impression he was mostly trying to make a buck or sleep with women, both of which he accomplished in spades. In the 1980s, Peebles actually got certified as a Wall Street floor trader, buying and selling stocks with the same fervor he had applied to his art. Twenty years prior, he’d been part of the Charlie Hebdo-founding gang of revolutionary French artists, and now he was making big bucks on Wall Street!

How To Eat Your Watermelon in White Company (and Enjoy It) was originally released a decade ago, but Music Box Films has decided to give us a proper DVD release (and distribution) with some sweet extras that give you a better sense of this larger-than-life personality. The “Breakfast with Melvin” featurette is cute, but light on content, with the filmmakers doing most of the talking while Peebles chomps on toast. But the three TV news commentaries provided here are historical gold, harking back to a not-so-distant, pre-PC past where live TV was a lot less censored and restricted. Millennials, take note! There’s also a live concert performance that proves Melvin was a much better writer than he was a rock star, but you’ve got to hand it to the guy—he left no creative stone unturned.

How To Eat Your Watermelon… is essential viewing for anyone willing to throw out their preconceptions about race and the role of African Americans in this country, and a testament to what a single person can accomplish. Whatever your preconceptions, Melvin Van Peebles will shatter them.

Buy or Rent How To Eat Your Watermelon in White Company (and Enjoy It)
Amazon graphicDVDMovies Unlimited graphicNetflix graphic

About Memo

Memo Salazar attempts many things and accomplishes few. His big three are making films, music, and comics, but he'll throw photography, graphic design and film criticism into the ring for good measure. He'll even make you a hand-painted t-shirt if you ask nicely. You can track his activity here when there's nothing else to do at work.