Scen.: Herman Raucher. F.: Wallace Kelley. M.: Carl Kress. Scgf.: Malcolm C. Bert, Sydney Z. Litwack. Mus.: Melvin Van Peebles. Int.: Godfrey Cambridge (Jeff Gerber), Estelle Parsons (Althea Gerber), Howard Caine (signor Townsend), D’Urville Martin (conducente del bus), Mantan Moreland (Counterman), Kay Kimberly (Erica), Kay E. Kuter (dottor Wainwright), Scott Garrett (Burton Gerber), Erin Moran (Janice Gerber). Prod.: John B. Bennett per Johanna Productions. DCP. Col.
It may be difficult to measure the extent to which Melvin Van Peebles shaped Black filmmaking, and perhaps even more difficult to assess to what degree Van Peebles has inspired African American artists in general. Van Peebles has attained legendary status among creative people who view his success as a testament of perseverance and self-belief. At the very least, Van Peebles represents a pioneering independent vision that forced Hollywood studios to be aware of a new approach to the cinematic renditions of African Americans […]. Watermelon Man, by its very title, prompts a reaction that taps into America’s racial history and African American stereotypes. Scripted as a comedy by white writer Herman Raucher, the intention of the film was to provide a satiric look at the alleged liberal suburban notions of equality. Van Peebles’ sensibilities as an independent filmmaker are obvious in this film. Although Watermelon Man has a polished look in places, Van Peebles – serving as both director and music composer – consistently strikes a satiric chord with a heavy-handed experimenting in visuals and sound. The story centers on a white middle-class insurance salesman named Jeff Gerber (Godfrey Cambridge in whiteface makeup at first). Gerber, an outspoken racial bigot and sexist, awakes one morning to discover that he has turned Black […]. The most memorable aspect of the film becomes the performance by Godfrey Cambridge. Required to pull off physical and verbal humor, as well as the pathos of an emotionally lost man, Cambridge is consistently radiant in a rather enigmatic role. When looking for directorial areas to note, […] one such area is centered in the visual metaphor of the ‘running Black man’ […]. The image of the ‘running Black man’ carries both a historical meaning (escaping slavery to freedom) and a political meaning (Blacks running from racial hegemony). It works effectively in revealing the burdens imposed upon Black men by a system that will always qualify and punish their blackness.
Melvin Donaldson, Black Directors in Hollywood, University of Texas Press, Austin 2003