Mario Van Peebles’ Talks Superstition, Phenomena and Family Values
Halloween and Horror are not my thing. I am a self-proclaimed wuss when it comes to anything scary…lol
But, I’m always down for a thriller and Mario Van Pebble’s Superstition fits the bill in that lane for me. Premiering on they SYFY Channel on October 20th, Mario Van Peebles sat down to chat about what directing this type of project was like. Here are some excerpts from that interview…
On growing up a Van Peebles…
MARIO VAN PEEBLES: When you grow up with Melvin Van Peebles – or Melvin Van Movies, my dad, you know, and you’re an independent filmmaker, you learn as a kid to take care of the cables, to be a PA, to be an editor, to do all those things. I didn’t really realize until later on as an adult that those were sort of carved up into different sections because it was all part of the family filmmaking thing. I saw my dad do it if you think back to when my dad did Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song in 1971 that became the top grossing independent hit of that year. Seeing him do it. He was acting in it. He wrote it. He produced it. He worked on music with a new group called Earth, Wind and Fire, so I kind of grew up, oh, that’s what filmmaking is. It feels very organic to me.
On the collaboration of creating Superstition for SyFy and America’ Melting Pot:
MARIO VAN PEEBLES: This has been a collaborative effort. So it was Barry Gordon and Justin and Chris and Joel, you know, really looking at it saying this is, you know, sort of a underserved demographic. The world is getting more diverse. America is getting more diverse. America is a melting pot. You take a place by America…you know, Italian immigrants and Africans who maybe didn’t come voluntarily and Native Americans and Asians and Jews from Europe and you put us all together and you do get sparks. But, out of those sparks, you get great art and great music. Out of America you get jazz, rock and roll, hip hop, gospel and all this great music and all this texture. That’s because you’ve got all these folks in this sort of cultural human melting pot. we thought the New South really reflects that.
You get Republicans and Democrats and climate change deniers. And, you know, especially a place like New Orleans, you get all kind of people who voted for the president. People who didn’t. All kind of folks. And you get sparks and you get friction. And it’s exciting. We thought this is a very exciting diverse America that we wanted to show. I think part of the other thing we kicked around was this notion that, you know, what would the Obama’s really be like when the cameras go off? You know, if you took a family that was a pretty tight family, had a lot of love, smart family, when the cameras go off, if they had to deal with infernals and demons and fight the forces outside, what would that family look and feel and sound like? So, it was a number of things, but the notion of seeing America like you don’t traditionally see us, all of us, and all our flavors and that on both sides of the equation, the “human and infernal side,” you’d see all flavors, all colors, all choices.
On humble beginnings and working with his Dad – Melvin Van Peebles…
Mario Van Peebles: You know, Mark Twain has a great forward where he says, “…All my life my father was an idiot and at 21 he was a genius.” When I wanted to go off, get into film and do all that, I went to sit down with my dad and my dad sort of said, okay, so we’re going to make you a star. I said, well, yes, actually. He said good. He drew a little star on a piece of paper and he handed it to me. Then he said, here’s my free advice. Early to bed, early to rise, work like hell and advertise and that was it. So, I went off and I got into theater. Then I got a break in a film called Cotton Club directed by Coppola. Slowly, you know, I got out to LA and started to work my way up, got my own TV show called Sonny Spoon, Heartbreak Ridge and started directing New Jack City, which was the biggest hit of that year. I did Posse and then I went off to do a movie on the Black Panther party, which is a tricky politically to get done. My dad wrote it and we produced it together.
He said, I am so amazed that we get to work together in this lifetime and that you’re courageous. You have the heart to do films that are not always easy to do, but films that really say something. Whether people like them or not, they’ll remember them when they see them. I wanted to do films and television that have something to say. That entertain you, yes, but hopefully have a little nutritional value.
So there are parallels to that and I suppose that to some degree in Superstition I am now playing the dad. But secretly, I want my son back. I want to work with him. This is a dream come true.
On what the Hasting Family lineage is, their responsibility and their special skills…
MARIO VAN PEEBLES: I think you find out over time that the sum of the family together is greater than the sum of our parts. It becomes, there’s a power in our unity.
And let me just go through this real quick. I’ll just take you through this. This has to do a little bit with soul maturity and is something that I feel I wanted Isaac to have, the character I play.
If you have a baby, it cries when it’s wet. It cries when it’s hungry and it’s aware of its own physicality. Now, as the baby gets older, it becomes more aware of, oh, I’ve got brothers and sisters. I’ve got mom and dad. Now it realizes, gee, if dad is unemployed, if mom is sick, it can’t be happy because now it’s affected by the family. So it realizes, I can’t really be solid if I’ve got no home, if we got no job and no means. So now the baby said, oh, I’ve got to care about the family. So, in other words, if the socioeconomic or racial group I’m born into is downtrodden, unemployed and getting kicked across the border, then we’re all in trouble again and we’re getting arrested by the police. Or whatever it is, whatever we’re dealing with, I can’t be healthy without understanding it. It’s not just me. It’s not just my family. It’s all people. It’s all my people. The more you grow as a soul, unless you get stopped along the way, the more you realize we’re all interconnected and that it’s not just about the web of your own biological family.
I did Roots. One of the things on Roots was we got our racial makeup done. My pie chart, like everyone’s pie chart, is really mixed. I’ve got African blood from West Africa. A lot of European blood, English, British, French, and I’ve got some Native American blood.
As you understand the story of the Hastings, we are really all Americans. You’ll find out with Isaac — he’s got some heavyweight European blood and African blood. So, the human family is part of his family…that’s the bigger understanding. So, in future episodes, one infernal comes through and says, God’s not listening to you all anymore because you all are messed up. That’s why we’re sending you this crazy weather.
So, some of the things we deal with in Superstition deal with a common denominator of the human family, not just the Hastings family. And that’s, I think, when it gets exciting and really broadens us out. That’s my hope.
On what is next for Director/Actors/Producer Mario Van Peebles…
MARIO VAN PEEBLES: So, I just did a new film coming out called Armed. It’s a thriller with a guy that’s dangerously armed in a kind of world of the climate of lax gun control or lax gun sense, which comes out February 2nd. I produced, wrote and directed it. But, part of what I do is I put projects together. It allows me to cast people from film and television, to take great techniques I’ve learned in television and move them over to film. It allows me to get in there with the actors and really have a dialogue with them as one of them. That’s super helpful when you want to get that great performance.
On personal phenomena experiences and what he enjoys about the sci-fi genre…
MARIO VAN PEEBLES: Part of the fun of this was going around and going through sort of, you know, the history of Americana and saying what superstitions, what belief systems, what sort of cultural nuances and idiosyncrasies can we play with? How do we do that with each episode and play with it? What do we do when someone gets lost in the mirror world? What do you do when someone gets caught in a clock in a time warp? And, you know, what’s the concept of the time?
I’ve experienced, you know, something that happened with sort of past life regression that I went into. I didn’t believe it. But, man, when I saw it, I said, oh, yes, this is very familiar and I don’t want to go back to that lifetime.
I’ve had that happen with my kids where we went to do things together and someone did a reading for us and it was very, very illuminating. And it really actually helped me be a better parent.
We have one superstition about people reading the grinds in a coffee cup. It was written in there, we Googled it, talked about it and discussed it. My cameraman came over and said how did you guys know? I said what do you mean? He said, this has happened to me twice. I had a woman read the grinds in my coffee cup and predicted that I would have a child, predicted that I would shoot the sequel to my movie and predicted when.
People can come at this game from all kinds of places from Vedanta theory, from past life theory, from religious aspects, from all kinds of places. There’s a lot out there that we human beings don’t understand. And that’s part of the fun of playing in the area of superstition.