In his latest film, actor-director Mario Van Peebles challenges teens to question their belief systems in We The Party. The coming of age flick – costarring Snoop Dogg and his son as well as P. Diddy’s son – looks at societal pressures and encourages teens to ask: “What gives you recognition with your peers?”
Mario sits down with Celebrity Baby Scoop and opens up about his five children – Maya, 19, Makaylo, 17, Mandela, 17, Marley, 15, and Morgana, 14 – and his new film that was “developed and workshopped with them and around them.” He goes on to say fatherhood is his “best role” and adds, “I have always thought that the kids come through you and not from you.” Read on about Mario’s new film and his best advice for fathers.
CBS: Tell us about your new film We The Party. We hear it was a family affair with some of your children in it.
MVP: “The film has my three boys and two girls, and my father is in it as well. The story is about a group of high school students coming of age right now with the Obama presidency, Facebook, Twitter, and all the challenges that young folks are dealing with. I really wanted it to be authentic and come from them. It is not a documentary, but rather it is a feature that I developed and workshopped with them and around them, and I worked on their characters as if they were in a series.
When you do a series, you know how the characters move, talk, and sing, and how the situations change. Having grown up with my kids, I know how they move, talk, and make their point. This made it very easy to develop their characters. It was very exciting having them go through it and work with me on it.
Part of the story also started with me just hanging out with my kids. There is a certain point where your kids become teenagers and relations change. By doing the film with my kids, I bought two more years of being relative in their lives. It was really a wonderful experience that came together very well.”
CBS: And we see Snoop Dogg is also in the film. Did he bring his kids to the set? What was it like working with him?
MVP: “It wasn’t just Snoop Dogg, but also his son as well. The movie featured a lot of parents and kids, and P. Diddy’s son is in the film as well. It was great! Snoop is a cool guy.
In regard to whether he brought his kids to the set, his teenage son is in the movie. Snoop Dogg is a very relaxed dad who is easy with his kids. A friend of mine once said to me, ‘One thing that is very important to your kids is to be who you say you are. If you are what you say you are, then they don’t have to spend a lot of time disproving that. Be who you say you are.’ I think Snoop is very comfortable with who he is. When you are around someone who knows what he does and what he wants to do and is comfortable with it, it is very relaxing.”
CBS: Please tell us your kids names and ages.
MVP: “Maya, the eldest, is 19-years-old and plays Michelle in the movie. Makaylo is 17-years-old and plays Obama in the movie. He was on the debate team in high school, and everyone nicknamed him Obama, which was carried over into the film. Mandela is 17-years-old and plays Hendrix in the movie. Morgana is 14-years-old and plays Megan in the movie, and Marley is 15-years-old and is also in the film.”
CBS: What is your favorite part of fatherhood?
MVP: “Fatherhood is the best role I have ever played. I have always thought that the kids come through you and not from you. Part of what has been exciting is that the one side that’s just all parenting doesn’t really work, so you have to adjust and think about letting each kid define who they are, and they are also finding out as well. You help them be the best person that they can be. It teaches you grace.
As a filmmaker, there is the metaphor that my film comes through me and not from me. I didn’t really know I would be doing this film until it organically happened. One summer, Makaylo and Mandela wanted to throw a big birthday party at home. They cleared it with us and we threw this huge party at the house. They hired a DJ and decided to charge admission to pay for it. They ended up having 500-600 kids dancing at the house. It was amazing and a lot of fun. The movie was born out of that house party and became We The Party.
The concept was that one of the things I’ve always felt is that you shouldn’t be afraid to have a conversation with your kids that society is already having with them. Since society has already started talking to your kids early on about hyper-sexuality and hyper-materialism, I wanted to have that come out in the course of the film. In the course of We The Party, there is a sequence where I sit and talk about how you won’t be able to buy your sense of identity at the mall or your self-esteem at the car dealership. Yet, we have a society that encourages hyper-materialism in the form of status-expression. We go into this in We The Party.
For example, we go into how if you buy that fancy car, it becomes tied up in your sense of identity. In ten to twenty years, that car becomes old and you have to go back because you don’t control your sense of self and identity—you’re just making it brand identification. We also talked about other people we really respect who have done something and stand for something still. This includes Mother Theresa and Ghandi. We didn’t admire them for the sake of shopping, but for what they stood for and occasionally what they even died for.
Back in the days with indigenous groups, they made a rite of passage for boys and girls who wanted to become adults that they could do something to gain recognition in the tribe. They made it so that most of the kids could pass and be recognized as contributing members of the tribe. In contrast, when you ask teenagers today, ‘What gives you recognition with your peers?,’ often it is materialistic stuff. For example, it is driving the most fly car, being a movie star, or having a Facebook page.
The reality is, while a fraction of some will, 90 percent of them will not drive a Bentley or be a movie star. If you create a society where 90 percent of the populace feels that their peers do not recognize them, you create a big insecurity gap. When you create a big insecurity gap, you can displace some of the identity connection with materialism. Since you feel this gap and don’t feel recognized, you will try to buy this house or these new clothes to feel more exclusive. If you understand it, you think, ‘Wow, that is set up in a way where it is about what you drive and what you wear, not who you are.’
Being an adult, part of what I am concerned about that has forced me to reconnect the paradigm, is that we pass on things that we know are flawed. If we continue to do what we’ve been doing, we will continue to get what we got. Unless you stop and look at what you’re passing on, you don’t change the outcome of the generation. One thing I think about as a parent is that it forces you to think, ‘Wow, wait a minute, why am I passing that on? Is that really good or beneficial in any way?’ It forces you to always reexamine everything you do. It forces you to simplify complex concepts so that they are more understandable to another person.”
CBS: What is your best advice to fathers?
MVP: “My best advice to fathers is to enjoy being a kid with your kid, and to not always be stuck in being the parent. Every now and then, take your parent hat off and hang out with your kid, letting him or her know, ‘for this hour, I am just going to be your friend. I am not going to criticize, I am just going to enjoy playing with you.’ Remember this—you can’t learn from people that you don’t feel love from. It is very difficult to lead people when they don’t feel love.
The biggest advice I have to dads is to not get stuck in dad-mode all the time. Every now and then, play with your kids, be a friend, and get to know them. That was a huge part of We The Party. In one instance, I am asked by my kids if they can go to a party with teenage girls, and I say, ‘No, you cannot go without me.’ So they decided to ask me if I would go, but not as their dad. If I went as their dad, they would not be invited back. So they dressed me up in skinny jeans, big sneakers, and a hat, and I looked like the oldest teenager on the planet, but I went as a part of their entourage. I knew the kids were safe with me, and I’d rather be the parent who knows what’s going on than the parent who doesn’t.
They are going to do what they do, and you have the choice of whether you want to know or not. I’d rather be the parent that they can talk to. It is so important to not forget every now and then to hang out with them and get to know them, and then you can go back and say, ‘I am going to talk to you about this as your father.’ Those things come up every day where I go, ‘There are some things where I can’t be your friend on and I have to be the guy who says no!’ Having appreciated them as students and kids gives you a much better inside into how to deal with them as parents.”
CBS: Are all your kids interested in the entertainment industry? Do you encourage it?
MVP: “I don’t know. They have all worked in it and enjoyed it, but enjoying something doesn’t mean you will make a living doing it. It helps you learn work ethic and people skills, but I think you have to love what you do, love who you do it with, and love what you say about it. It helps that you get to enjoy what you love. In my life, I loved what I do, loved the people I worked with, and of course my kids and family and extended family and friends, and I love what I say with it.
I do not encourage my kids to be in the entertainment industry. They got to work with me, because that is our family business, but I don’t encourage them to do it as their only endeavor. They are all different, and they will let me know what they want to do. I will encourage them to be the best at it that they can be.”
CBS: What’s up next for you?
MVP: “I am going to hug my daughter! I am also going off to Chicago to direct Boss with Kelsey Grammer. It is hard to always know what is in the direct future in this business. One day you are on a billboard and everyone loves you, and the next day you are on a milk carton and no one knows where you are.”