"We tell our kids, clean up the living room, but we haven't left them a cleaner Earth," Mario Van Peebles tells the audience in his television show Mario's Green House, now airing on the cable/satellite channel TV One. The lively, educational reality show follows the gradual, step-by-step greening of Van Peebles and his large family -- including his famous father Melvin Van Peebles -- as they renovate their home into a green dream, learn to eat healthier and make many other small changes in their lives.
Mario's Green House is a lot of fun, with a witty eponymous character and supporting family members who each have their own personalities and goals. The elder Van Peebles, for example, is a bit of a ladies' man, and would like his own space within the household to entertain guests. Melvin Van Peebles is a veteran actor, filmmaker and composer perhaps most famous for making 1971's Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song. His son Mario is also an actor and filmmaker, having directed television (Law & Order, Lost, 21 Jump Street) and movies (New Jack City, Panther and Posse). Mario's wife is into yoga, spirituality and learning about natural living, while their five kids have interests that range from technology to dating, sports, academics and more.
The core of the show is the process of expanding and greening the Van Peebles household, which the gang agreed to do after meeting Lance Williams of the U.S. Green Building Council and Grandma's hero, the dark-green Ed Begley, Jr. (and his adorable daughter). "Build green, it's the smartest way to go," Begley tells them. "Every decision you make will affect your kids tomorrow," Mario agrees, before he has one of the scariest environmental dreams we've every seen.
"What kind of future we build for our kids tomorrow has something to do with the housing we build for them today, it's all connected," Mario explains. So in addition to learning about energy efficiency and green certification, the Van Peebles try natural cleaning products, visit the farmers' market and meet with eco-chef Bryant Terry (who is aiming his work at showing minorities how to eat better and greener). "I don't see any bacon, or a BBQ. What are you doing?" Melvin teases his son when he catches him trying to cook up some healthy veggies.
Mario's Green House excels in showing how anyone can learn to live smarter, and greener, regardless of where they start from. Airing on a black TV network and starring primarily people of color, there's no doubt that it has the potential to reach new audiences who haven't necessarily felt as included in the green living movement.
I talked with Mario Van Peebles via phone to find out more:
URTH Guy: How did you come up with the idea for Mario's Green House?
Mario Van Peebles: The birth of it was after my kids and I went to see An Inconvenient Truth, and one of my sons turned to me and said: "The world is coming to an end and I haven't even had a cocktail yet." My other son said, "You asked me to clean up my room but you haven't left me a clean planet." I thought of the effect the movie had on them, and asked, what if we put it in a pop framework, see how it applies in our everyday lives, see how we can have fun with it?
Your mom seems to play the role of the green conscience in the show. How did that come about?
My mom [German actress Maria Marx] is always comparing me to Ed Begley, and I'm more olive than green, Ed is the full on neon green. My mom is an Earth mom; we hitchhiked out to see the Rolling Stones when I was a kid. My dad was the maverick filmmaker, he knew the Black Panthers. So I had different exposures. My first job when I got out of college was working on an environmental protection budget for NYC. Then I got a little discouraged, and wanted to do what I love, which is film and media. But I wanted to come back to [green], for the kids to think about how we reevaluate how we look at things. Especially when you realize that indigenous people lived in harmony with nature, so I think we need to take the wisdom of elders, and the high technology of today, and combine them to make green sleek, sexy, fun and hopefully sustainable.
You talk about new green jobs quite a bit in the show. So what do you think is the next step for getting more people working in sustainability?
Of course we learned from the real expert in this area, Van Jones, who up until recently was the green czar at the White House. I was just directing an episode of Lost in Hawaii, and if you think about the history of the Hawaiian islands and the Hawaiian people, they were in harmony with nature, then Westerners came along and put in place a new doctrine. The Westerners wanted to live up in the mountains, so they made the natives move down to the beaches, and they made them cover up with more clothes and all kinds of other changes. Now we've moved native Hawaiians back up to the mountains, and the great-grandkids of those Westerners now want to wear not many clothes, live on the beach, and say go back to the traditional ways. So there's a bit of a resentment culturally: "You Westerners came in and sold us plastics, fossil fuels, asbestos. You guys bullied us, so why should we listen to you and drive a Prius?" I wanted to make a show about not what might be perceived as New Age yuppiedome, but something that comes from people of all colors who, for example, remembered what Grandma did with baking soda, and that you don't need to use all those chemicals.
We got sold a bill of goods a little bit. Western man says, "We inherit the land from our forefathers." But the indigenous man says, "No we borrow it from our children." We need to refocus a little bit. The changes we make on the show will hopefully not seem like painful steps, although we do have to look throughout our whole concept of the ever-expanding economy. If our population is constantly growing, and the economy is constantly growing, and the world's resources are finite, something is wrong with that equation. Something is going to give. We [shouldn't just say] let's put a green label on everything: I think we have to rethink the whole paradigm. I don't think it's about Republican or Democrat, our kids all breathe the same air.
What has been the response to the show in the black community?
That's been interesting. Folks that are educated and politically, socially and ecologically aware already really dig it, and that's great to see it. I don't know if a lot of folks who watch Jerry Springer or the Home Shopping Network are saying, "Let's watch Mario's Green House." We got some kids who watch it for entertainment, some watch it on different levels, I like the fact that it's not along any specific lines. Some people like the parenting stuff, because we involve our kids actively in things. I think kids learn more from behavior than from our words.
One of the great things about the show is that we get a sense for how different the personalities are of everyone in your family. How does that play out?
We let everyone be who they are. We were already doing pretty sophisticated home movies anyway, so we thought why not make it a TV show? But we didn't want to get into that tabloid TV-type stuff.
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