Back in the day, Mario Van Peebles made a name for himself as the director of the gritty urban classic, New Jack City. Now, over 20 years later, he’s bringing it again with We the Party, which is equally as impactful. This time around, Mario takes an honest look at the life of a teenager in 2012.
The coming of age dramedy is set in Los Angeles and follows five friends as they deal with issues like fitting in, bullies and sex. The lead role is convincingly played by Mandela Van Peebles, Mario’s 17-year-old son. It’s so convincing because the film was spawned from real-life experiences in the Van Peebles household. Mandela explained, “Me and my siblings wanted to start, you know, hitting a few clubs and seeing what the L.A. nightlife was like. So we asked our dad, ‘Dad, can we get a ride to some of these clubs?’ And dad said, ‘Hell no!’” That is, unless dad was able to tag along. “I suggested we dress him up in like a hat and some skinny jeans, you know, get him young looking and let him walk in a little after us.”
Mario agreed to act as the “elderly bouncer” and, as a father of five teenagers, was interested in getting a firsthand look at what that nightlife had to offer. After observing the teens in their environment, he was compelled to write a story from their point of view.
The authenticity of films like House Party and Breakfast Club served as inspiration for Mario. “Now kids don’t lead PG lives, they live R-rated lives and that’s the truth,” he said. Mandela had no problem showing his father the real deal.
“I mean we’re pretty close, we have a pretty good relationship. So, I mean, he’s my homie. So, I don’t know, it was kind of natural.”
From the beginning, Mario realized this type of film would need to be independently funded so he got his running buddy Michael Cohen on board as his executive producing partner. Michael and Mario together funded the entire project, which, with the cameo appearance of Melvin Van Peebles, Mario’s father, features three generations of the Van Peebles clan.
“It’s kinda like a dream come true. You know, we have a lot of fun together. We were just all in Jamaica together hanging out with my dad. I think we all learn from each other,” boasts Mario, whose grandfather passed on a good work ethic to his son Melvin, who then passed it on to Mario. It’s clear that Mandela has received those same lessons, too.
“You got to show up early and set an example for the other cast members and know your lines, be on time. You know, not joke around on the set,” said Mandela, who also just finished shooting his role in American Battleship, and is currently working on Flip’d, a film he wrote and directed. He’s also into music, co-producing videos for two singles, featured in We The Party, by MVP Boyz, a rap duo he formed with his brother, Makaylo Van Peebles, who also appears in the film.
We the Party hits limited theaters on Friday, April 6, and additional theaters the following Friday, April 13. Also appearing in the film are Salli Richardson-Whitfield (“Eureka”), Michael Jai White (Why Did I Get Married), Simone Battle (“X Factor”), Snoop Dogg and young stars including Quincy Brown, rapper YG, Moises Arias (“Hanna Montana”), Patrick Cage II (Nickelodeon), The New Boyz, The REJ3CTS and Pink Dollaz.