Godfather of Black Cinema Melvin Van Peebles Dies at 89

Melvin Van Peebles has died at 89. Considered by many to be the godfather of modern Black cinema, Van Peebles was an influential link to a younger generation of filmmakers that includes Spike Lee and John Singleton.

Oscar-winner Lee said:

“Damn, we have lost another giant!”

“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.”

Sometimes called the “godfather of modern Black cinema,” the multitalented Van Peebles wrote numerous books and plays and recorded several albums – playing multiple instruments and delivering rap-style lyrics.

Melvin Van Peebles’ numerous film credits include “Watermelon Man” and “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song.”

He was also an accomplished author, playwright, and advocate for independent filmmakers.

Melvin Van Peebles inspired a generation of young filmmakers to be active. His early movies were shot on tiny budgets — and shot through with provocative, politically charged humor.

“Dad knew that Black images matter. If a picture is worth a thousand words, what was a movie worth? We want to be the success we see, thus we need to see ourselves being free,” Mario Van Peebles said of his father’s work in his statement.

Van Peebles was born in Chicago in 1932. He helped pave the way for the renegade genre known as blaxploitation, with movies that were bitingly funny, sexually swaggering, and occasionally violent, that put Black protagonists front and center.

Van Peebles’s death was announced in a joint statement from his family, The Criterion Collection of prestige movies of which his films were included, and the arthouse distributor Janus Films.

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