Melvin Van Peebles, Pioneer of Black Cinema, Dead at 89
Rest in peace, Melvin Van Peebles. The groundbreaking filmmaker died on Tuesday. He was 89.
Van Peebles, whose son is actor-director Mario Van Peebles, reportedly died at his home in Manhattan. His death was confirmed in a statement from his family, The Criterion Collection and Janus Films.
"In an unparalleled career distinguished by relentless innovation, boundless curiosity and spiritual empathy, Melvin Van Peebles made an indelible mark on the international cultural landscape through his films, novels, plays and music," the statement read. "His work continues to be essential and is being celebrated at the New York Film Festival this weekend with a 50th anniversary screening of his landmark film Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song; a Criterion Collection box set, Melvin Van Peebles: Essential Films, next week; and a revival of his play Ain’t Supposed to Die a Natural Death, slated for a return to Broadway next year."
As the statement noted, Van Peebles was the pioneering filmmaker behind '70s films like Watermelon Man and Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song. He's considered by many to be the godfather of modern Black cinema, and impacted a generation of filmmakers, including Spike Lee.
Van Peebles, who was also a novelist, songwriter and musician, was born in Chicago in 1932. He was best known for his work in film, however, as he helped pave the way for the renegade genre known as blaxpolitation. His early movies were filmed on small budgets, showcased provocative humor and put Black protagonists front and center.
Ava DuVernay mourned the death of Van Peebles on Twitter on Wednesday.
"'You have to not let yourself believe you can’t. Do what you can do within the framework you have. And don’t look outside. Look inside.' ― the iconic artist, filmmaker, actor, playwright, novelist, composer and sage Melvin Van Peebles, who has gone home at the age of 89," she wrote alongside a photo of the film legend.
"We’ve lost another lion, the true revolutionary, an artistic gangsta, cultural disrupter who forever changed the game," David Alan Grier wrote. "Rest n Peace Melvin Van Peebles."
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