Mario Van Peebles Tackling Gun Violence With Indie Drama 'If'

Mario Van Peebles - Getty - H 2016
Getty Images

Mario Van Peebles - Getty - H 2016

The filmmaker wrote, directed and starred in the movie, which wrapped production earlier this month.

Mario Van Peebles is tackling the subject of gun violence in If, his latest indie.

Van Peebles wrote, directed and starred in the movie, which wrapped production earlier this month and with the filmmaker now in the editing room.

He leads a cast that includes Ryan Guzman, Jemma Dallebder, Columbus Short, Lane Garrison, William Fichtner and singer Dionne Warwick as it tells the story of a former U.S. Marshall struggling to put his life together after a case gone wrong. A former colleague reappears in his life and explains all of the survivors of the man’s unit are suffering the same symptoms and that there may be a larger conspiracy at hand.

"We pulled from a lot of things around us,” Van Peebles tells The Hollywood Reporter, noting the real-life inspiration of the scenes ranged from the current debate of having people on no-fly lists being able to buy guns to the 2013 shootout in Big Bear, Calif., involving fired police officer Christopher Dorner.

“The character that I play is the guy that could be considered quite dangerous," says Van Peebles. "And he’s able to get all these weapons. And one of the questions that we ask is the question of who do we allow to have weapons.”

Van Peebles says he’s not making a preachy film — “It’s not a political movie but a thriller,” he says — but the pic will have appearances by activist and commentator Van Jones and political commentator Roland Martin, who explain gun laws and gun history in the U.S. 

The actor believes that Hollywood could effect some change on gun control, even if it were to take time.

“We went from the Huckstables to Obama, from Will & Grace to gay marriage. We can make cinema that makes people think,” says Van Peebles.

He adds: “We have people getting killed by toddlers — it’s hard not to be for some kind of gun control.”

Van Peebles has spent the last few years directing episodic television (he helmed the second part of the recent Roots miniseries) and the occasional movie. If, however, is the first feature Van Peebles has directed that he has also produced, and one of the few he has written, since Baadasssss!, his well-regarded 2003 biopic of his father, Melvin Van Peebles. The elder Van Peebles was instrumental in creating the 1970s blaxploitation film movement.  

Van Peebles, repped by Matt Luber at Luber Roklin Entertainment, compares the making of If to that of the 2003 effort, saying he and his team scrambled to find financing and went guerilla-style in order to get the film made.

“It’s been a lot like Baadasssss!,” he said. “I feel a lot like Bernie [Sanders], on the trail without a superPAC.”