Thank you for making the first symposium a sweet, sweet success!

Hollywood icon Jasmine Guy presented the closing keynote address at Ohio Wesleyan’s Melvin Van Peebles Symposium, which explored Van Peebles’ work and his impact on the Black arts. Here, Guy fields questions from OWU students and other symposium attendees. (Photo by James DeCamp) [See more event images]

‘We Got Your Back’

Ohio Wesleyan’s Melvin Van Peebles Symposium Honors Struggles, Successes of Black Artists

Ohio Wesleyan University celebrated the legacy and artistic influence of 1953 OWU alumnus Melvin Van Peebles during a three-day, sold-out symposium March 30-April 1.

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Inaugural Melvin Van Peebles Symposium

Thursday, March 30 - Saturday, April 1, 2023
Keynote Speakers
: Jasmine Guy, Wil Haygood, and Simone Drake
Featuring: DJ O Sharp and Marshall L. Shorts Jr.

Melvin Van Peebles at the Deauville Film Festival. (Photo by Georges Baird)

Best known as a trailblazing Black filmmaker, Melvin Van Peebles was a twentieth-century Renaissance man, transcending the boundaries of race and gender as an innovator in film, theater, music, art, literature, and business. With his recent death, the aim of this symposium is to honor and celebrate his life and legacy by providing a platform to review, study, and share the historical and contemporary impact of Van Peebles, and how through this examination, we might gain important insights about broader political and cultural dynamics. Furthermore, the symposium seeks to recognize emerging artists and artistry that extend Van Peebles’ radical tradition.

Read the About Van Peebles page for more information.

Symposium Speakers and Artists

Jasmine Guy (left), Wil Haygood, and Simone Drake will speak at Ohio Wesleyan’s Melvin Van Peebles Symposium.

Actress-dancer-director Jasmine Guy will provide the closing address at Ohio Wesleyan’s inaugural symposium to explore the artistic legacy of groundbreaking Black filmmaker and 1953 OWU graduate Melvin Van Peebles.

The winner of six consecutive NAACP Image Awards, Guy is well-known for her role as Whitley Gilbert on NBC-TV’s “A Different World” and for her works in films and mini-series including Spike Lee’s “School Daze, Eddie Murphy’s “Harlem Nights,” Alex Hailey’s “Queen,” and Debbie Allen’s “Stompin’ at the Savoy.” Guy will discuss the evolution of Black media, including television and film, during her 40 years as a performer.

During her career, Guy performed with Van Peebles’ son, Mario, in “Stompin’ at the Savoy” and in his Syfy production of “Superstition.” She currently can be seen in “Harlem,” the comedy series from Tracy Oliver for Amazon Prime, and “Vanished: Searching for My Sister,” a movie for Lifetime that premiered earlier this month. Guy also stars in the new feature film “The Lady Makers,” available on Amazon Prime, and recently completed filming the forthcoming “Not Just Another Church Movie.”

The symposium also will feature award-winning writer Wil Haygood, author of “Colorization: One Hundred Years of Black Films in a White World,” and academic, author, and artist Simone Drake, an Ohio State University professor whose research focuses on how people of African descent in the Americas negotiate the intersections of race, gender, sexuality, class, and nation. Drake also served as an editor of the book “Are You Entertained?: Black Popular Culture in the Twenty-First Century.”

Read the Speaker Bios page for more information.


DJ O Sharp (left), Marshall L. Shorts Jr., Tyiesha Radford Shorts, and Khadija Adams ’04 are part of the inaugural Melvin Van Peebles Symposium.

Movie Screenings

(Film descriptions and details from

The Story of a Three-Day Pass (1967)

Tagline: “The love story of an ordinary guy and an ordinary girl”

A Black American soldier is demoted for fraternizing with a white girl in France.

Not Rated | Running Time: 1 hour, 27 minutes

Screening: 7 p.m. March 30 at the Strand Theatre (open to anyone with a symposium ticket)

Director: Melvin Van Peebles
Writer: Melvin Van Peebles
Stars: Harry Baird and Nicole Berger
Music: Melvin Van Peebles and Mickey Baker (uncredited)

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Watermelon Man (1970)

Tagline: “A Black and White Comedy in Color”

An extremely bigoted white man finds out the hard (and somewhat humorous) way what it's like being a Black man, firsthand!

Rated R | Running Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes
The film includes sex and nudity; mild profanity; alcohol and smoking; and an intense scene.

Screening: 7 p.m. March 31 at Ohio Wesleyan (free for anyone over age 17)

Director: Melvin Van Peebles
Writer: Herman Raucher
Stars: Godfrey Cambridge and Estelle Parsons
Music: Melvin Van Peebles

Baadasssss! (2003)

Tagline: “A father. A son. A revolution.”

Mario Van Peebles’ half-documentary/half-homage to his father Melvin Van Peebles’ movie Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (1971).

Rated R | 1 hour, 49 minutes
Rated R for pervasive language and some strong sexuality/nudity.

Screening: 10:15 a.m. April 1 at Ohio Wesleyan (open to those over age 17 with symposium ticket)

Director: Mario Van Peebles
Writers: Melvin Van Peebles, Mario Van Peebles, and Dennis Haggerty
Stars: Mario Van Peebles, Nia Long, and Joy Bryant

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Symposium Contact Info


Ohio Wesleyan University
61 S. Sandusky St.
Delaware, OH 43015

Symposium Co-Chairs

Antron Mahoney
Eva Paris-Huesca