Posse

Van Peebles's second, independent film, Posse is a rousing hip-hop Western flaunting garish style at the expense of coherent narrative or sharp characterization.

The motivation for making the film was no doubt honorable: Posse pas tribute to the black frontierspeople, previously ignored in Hollywood Westerns. In a narration that recalls Little Big Man, Woody Strode tells the audience about a hidden history–the Wild West we don't know. But except for featuring black performers in leading roles, Posse didn't break any new ground as a revisionist Western.

Van Peebles endows the tale of a racially integrated unit, battling a corrupt Calvary and land-grabbing Ku Klux Klans, with flamboyance, going over the top, as if his driving force was to outshine Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood's spaghetti Westerns. Screenwriters Sy Richardson and Dario Scardapane employ familiar motifs with allusions to The Magnificent Seven, High Noon, The Wild Bunch and others. Jesse wears an Eastwood poncho, a fierce squint and a “Man With No Name” black hat. Imitative of baroque Westerns, the movie's MTV style score mixes Michel Colombier, blues and rap.

Jesse Lee and the “Buffalo Soldiers,” the black infantry that fought in the Spanish-American War, return to the West as outlaw-deserters. They are hounded by a corrupt officer (Billy Zane) who betrays them. Jesse becomes the reticent leader of the fugitives, all black, except for one white soldier. Thee revenge story is cliched: Jesse returns home to avenge the death of his preacher father and finds that Freemanville is besieged by a crooked white sheriff (Richard Jordan) and his black partner (Blair Underwood), who want to sell the town to the railroad.

The cast includes blaxploitation cult figures Pam Grier and Isaac Hayes, as well as Robert Hooks, Paul Bartel, Nipsey Russell, and Mario's father, Melvin Van Peebles, as a wise patriarch. There are barroom brawls and desert treks, jailbreaks, bordello blowouts, and an updated character, a schoolmarm with R-rated scenes in a boudoir. Van Peebles perceives the group as “an eclectic Robin Hood posse with a mission and a sense of values,” but the two genres don't mix. When Jesse hits Freemanville and switches from Posse head to a loner with a wounded past, the camaraderie is dropped. Attempting to be a neo-Western, revisionist morality play, and tribute to black cowboys, Posse was incoherent and anachronistic, with liberal speeches that reflected contemporary attitudes.