By Fisher Jack | Eurweb | September 22, 2021
Sadly, we must report the passing of Melvin Van Peebles, a legendary and groundbreaking actor and director, best know for 1971’s “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song.” He was 89.
Van Peebles’ death was confirmed in a statement Wednesday from video distribution company the Criterion Collection on behalf of the Peebles’ family.
“We are saddened to announce the passing of a giant of American cinema, Melvin Van Peebles, who died last night, at home with family, at the age of 89. In an unparalleled career, Van Peebles made an indelible mark on the international cultural landscape. He will be deeply missed,” Criterion tweeted.
“Dad knew that Black images matter,” Mario Van Peebles also said in that statement from the Criterion Collection. “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. True liberation did not mean imitating the colonizer’s mentality. It meant appreciating the power, beauty and interconnectivity of all people.”
For “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song,” Van Peebles did it all in the sense that he wrote, co-produced, edited, directed and starred in the production that tells the story of a poor Black man fleeing white police officers. (Sound familiar?)
With help from Bill Cosby in the form of a $50,000 loan, he created the renegade film as well as starred as its anti-hero, a ladies man with superhero lovemaking abilities who battles the corrupt white establishment in Los Angeles.
The film made a lot of noise over a controversial scene that featured his young son, Melvin, having sex with an grown woman! In addition to freaking people out on screen, Van Peebles was also a playwright and novelist. He wrote books such as “Don’t Play Us Cheap: A Harlem Party” and “Bold Money: A New Way to Play the Options Market.”
Melvin Van Peebles – GettyImages
As the Hollywood Reporter notes, Van Peebles was considered by many to be the godfather of modern Black cinema. He was seen an influential link to a younger generation of African-American filmmakers that includes Spike Lee and John Singleton. The Chicago native also was a theater impresario, songwriter, musician and painter.
In 2005, Van Peebles was the subject of the documentary “How to Eat Your Watermelon in White Company (and Enjoy It).”
He is survived by his son Mario, another son, son Max Van Peebles, and daughter Megan Van Peebles and numerous grandchildren.