Melvin Van Peebles produced this film, edited it, wrote the screenplay, composed the music and played the leading role. He comes out ahead in all but one category: there are some serious problems with his screenplay.
Sweetback, who presumably derives his name from his prowess in the sack, is first seen, aged 12, in the arms of an accommodating older woman, and soon thereafter as the adult lead performer in a sexual circus. By chance, he’s selected by his employer to go along with a couple of white detectives who need an arrest for the evening, and on the way he’s witness to a ghetto riot in which his friendly captors brutally beat a young black revolutionary.
The moment of decision at hand, Sweetback smashes the detectives – and his own place in ‘the system.’ Thereafter, it’s one long chase, and one long parable of the white man’s brutality and duplicity.
Most of the many vignettes are absorbing in themselves, notably an encounter with a white motorcycle gang. Van Peebles has used every technical trick in the book to jazz up the sameness of the chase, but endless shots of Sweetback running through city and countryside can’t help being boring.