It’s party time for Mario Van Peebles. Actually, the charismatic big screen veteran has been partying since the theatrical opening last spring of his latest movie, “We the Party,” a story about five high school friends dealing with the major issues of teenage life: romance, sex, money, prom – and, as the official log-line states, “fitting in, standing out, and finding out about themselves.” Falling somewhere between “The Breakfast Club” and “House Party,” the movie is now available on XFINITY On Demand and definitely on our list of Editor’s Picks. We aren’t alone in that opinion. “Despite its flashy cinematography and colorful sets, it contains a great deal that is serious about growing up in America today,” film critic Roger Ebert wrote in the Chicago Sun-Times.
Early one recent morning at the E! News studios in Los Angeles, we discussed the project with Van Peebles, 55, who shepherded this message-oriented film as writer-director-producer and star, and also cast four of his five children, including son Makaylo, 17, who chimed in on the conversation, too – when he wasn’t teasing his father with a rubber snake.
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Tell us about the idea for this movie.
Mario: When I made “New Jack City” (in 1991) there was a little flick that came out before us called “House Party,” which didn’t make as much money at the box office, but was actually more profitable and a heck of a lot of fun. It had real dialogue and sounded the way teenagers talk. I also enjoyed movies like “Breakfast Club” that my buddy Judd Nelson was in. But as I watched my five teenagers grow up in 2012 with Facebook, Twitter and IMing, I realized they are incredibly informed and yet sometimes ignorant as well. It was an interesting sort of paradox. I thought what would a realistic, fun movie that had the bounce of this generation look like in 2012? And that became We The Party.
When did you begin to put it together?
MARIO: When did you guys throw that party?
MAKAYLO: For our 15th birthdays. We’re 17 now. For our birthdays, me and my brother usually get $300. So we decided to make a business out of this. We combined our $300, hired a DJ, hired some security and we started charging people to come to the party that we threw. By the end, we had about $1,000 each. As you can imagine, a lot of people that came to the party. But it was a situation where you had a bunch of different people from a bunch of different classes, a bunch of different races and they were just kind of mixing, you know. So it was a cool – it was very good.
MARIO: So our house was literally the party. I walked around, and I was like man, these kid are dancing in a way that looks like safe sex on the dance floor. It wasn’t, but it looked like it, you know. And it began from there. I think the best coming of age movies are ones that work for kids of all ages, including 50-year-old kids.
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Sounds like a great party. What was your house like afterward?
MAKAYLO: I didn’t think it was that bad. We didn’t have money to splurge on cleanup until after the party, but we weren’t trying to lose the money, so we went outside trash bags and started picking things up.
MARIO: That was part of the deal.
Mario, four of your children are in this movie. What was it like writing for them?
Mario: I knew their voices well. So I just took them and put them in these impossible situations. But they are really characters inspired by my kids. Makaylo was on the debate team at his public school; they nicknamed him Obama. Suddenly it was cool to be a nerd. For the first time it was cool to be a black nerd. That was revolutionary. Instead of playing basketball, kids are saying, what about owning the team? What about the P. Diddy paradigm or the Jay Z paradigm? Or the Russell Simmons paradigm?
What was it look working together?
MAKAYLO: I’ve always seen him on set, and I know when he’s dad and I know when he is Mr. Mario Van Peebles. So it was pretty easy.
MARIO: The same with me. I was bilingual with my dad – there was work talk and then we will goof around. It changes gears easily. It’s pretty fluid.
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What is your favorite scene in the movie?
MARIO: I enjoy a lot of them. There’s a scene with YG’s character that makes me think of Trayvan Martin and the whole hoodie thing. He was wearing the hoodie and I say to him, look son, if people can’t see your eyes they may not trust you. But when that character doesn’t get pre-judged and is allowed in the context of the party to express his consciousness through the song “Truth,” it’s pretty exciting.
MAKAYLO: The classroom scene is very – it is pretty significant for the whole entire movie.
You did a good job of putting a lot of your own opinions in this movie. Was that part of the point?
MARIO: Absolutely. (Turns to son.) Talk about what you did last year.
MAKAYLO: I was in India and Thailand. I did some teaching over there. Some English teaching for younger kids.
MARIO: And then Mandela went to teach in South Africa and Makaylo taught in Thailand. We do a lot of community give back stuff. You can’t necessarily teach kids heart. But you can give them perspective. And if you give them perspective that’s right next door to compassion. So my daughter went from wanting to be a Kardashian and having two of these and three of those to, you know, working at that orphanage in Africa where one boy gets one outfit for the whole year. It helps give you perspective.
What are the little things that you love that you point out that somebody might not see?
MARIO: Oh I think there’s a lot of karmic comeuppance in it. Like when Moises Arisas who plays Quick Time sort of makes the joke about dating homeless women, and that you can drop them off anywhere. And yet he winds up starting to feel something for someone and understanding the circumstances of how they became homeless and takes her to the prom. I love the old wizard who is based on my mom, the sort of eco wizard who says you can’t give poor people money. They make more poor people. That sounds very Malthusian and cold, but that as you add to it, you have got to give them consciousness. Once we have consciousness, then we educate our kids. Do you know what I mean? But that consciousness is important. So you have got to teach them to read, so they can read and learn. Learn to read so you can read and learn later.
Who is the movie for?
MARIO: We found that most everyone who sees it finds something in it. For teens, it’s fun. For parents, it’s an opportunity to see what their kids are doing. Some parents don’t want to know. I want to know, and not only that, I want to weigh in on the conversation.
XFINITY On Demand offers thousands of movies at any one time. Why should Xfinity TV subscribers choose this movie?
MARIO: I think we are seeing a major cultural shift and our teenagers are at the epicenter of it. I wouldn’t know that if I didn’t have five teenagers. There’s so much going on. If you want to know what is happening tomorrow, who is running the world whether you have kids or not, this is the generation that’s going to do it. And they have a whole new swag, a whole new way of looking at things and I think We The Party gives you an insight into that.
Makaylo, what about you?
MAKAYLO: I’ll just say, when was the last time you saw a fun movie that actually had a message worth learning?
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