Watermelon Man - Watermelon Man(Blu Ray) [Powerhouse - 2020]Directed by Melvin Van Peebles, the actor/director who would go on to become famous for directing Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971), 1970s Watermelon Man is a satire that tackles the thorny issue of race relations in late 60s, early 70s America.
Set against the backdrop of the race riots that took place across America during the period Jeff Gerber (Godfrey Cambridge) is a middle-class white supremacist, he makes jokes at the expense of the black people who cross his path daily and he looks upon them as second class citizens. Jeff has the stereotypical middle-class American family, he lives with his wife and two children in a typically quiet leafy suburb and travels to work every day by racing the bus, Jeff is also a fitness fanatic. Gerber’s cozy middle-class existence is turned on its head the day he wakes up to find he has become a black man overnight. As Jeff comes to terms with his new appearance, he learns exactly what it is like to be on the opposite end of the racial abuse he has dealt out, everyone from taxi drivers to shop assistants to friends, colleagues, and neighbors treat him differently. At work, he is asked to turn over his clients to a colleague so he can concentrate on bringing in more black clients to the business, and at home, his neighbors offer to buy his home from him at a massively inflated price just to get him out of the neighborhood. The most interesting aspect is the change in Gerber as he comes to terms with the fact, he is now a black man, and the changes he goes through as a person.
Godfrey Cambridge is excellent as Jeff Gerber, the white man turned black whose sanity is rapidly unraveling, Estelle Parsons is also great as his long-suffering wife (Althea) who initially comes across as far more liberal-minded than her husband but who reveals herself to be no less racially driven than the others in the film. The rest of the cast put in solid performances and a special mention goes to a very young Erin Moran as Gerber’s daughter Janice.
Watermelon Man is a sophisticated comedy with a message about the ridiculousness of race relations in the 60s and 70s America. At times funny, the film is also a poignant and at times exaggerated reminder of white middle-class attitudes to blacks at the time. It’s a bit of a forgotten gem and seems to be a little more relevant today than we would have hoped it would be. This new Blu-ray from Powerhouse films features a good looking sharp, clean print of the film with good color representation, however, the disc lacks bonus material with only an introduction from director Van Peebles, a Guardian interview with him and an image gallery.
Overall, it was interesting to see this film brought back from relative obscurity, it is a pretty good film from the early days of the Blaxploitation genre that deserves to be seen. A few more bonus features would have been nice, but it’s not a deal-breaker.Darren Charles