Filmmaker Melvin Van Peebles, known as the “Godfather of Black Cinema,” died at his New York home on Tuesday, his family announced. He was 89 years old.
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Van Peebles, the father of director and actor Mario Van Peebles, was the force behind the 1970s films “Watermelon Man” and “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song,” Variety reported.
His family, The Criterion Collection and Janus Films announced his death in a statement, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
“During an unprecedented career characterized by relentless innovation, boundless curiosity and spiritual empathy, Melvin Van Peebles has left an indelible mark on the international cultural landscape through his films, novels, plays and his music, “the statement read. “Her work continues to be essential and is celebrated at the New York Film Festival this weekend with a 50th anniversary screening of her flagship film ‘Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song’; a Criterion Collection box set, “Melvin Van Peebles: Essential Films”, next week; and a cover of his play “Ain’t Supposed to Die a Natural Death”, which is scheduled to return to Broadway next year. “
Melvin Van Peebles influenced a younger generation of black filmmakers that included Spike Lee and John Singleton, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The Chicago native was also a novelist, songwriter, stage manager and painter, the website reported.
Son of a tailor, Melvin Peebles was born August 21, 1932. He graduated from Ohio Wesleyan in 1953 with a literature degree, served almost four years in the US Air Force, and married a German woman, according to The Hollywood. Journalist. He studied at the Dutch National Theater and added “Van” to his last name, the website reported.
“Sweet Sweetback” was a groundbreaking film that Melvin Van Peebles funded and released as an independent production, Variety reported. This paved the way for independent filmmakers and it proved that black-produced films depicting black life in the United States could be profitable, the website reported.
“Dad knew black images matter,” Mario Van Peebles said in a Criterion Collection release. “If a picture is worth a thousand words, what was a movie worth?” We want to be the success that we see, so we need to see ourselves free. True liberation did not mean emulating the mentality of the colonizer. It meant appreciating the power, beauty and interconnectivity of all people.
Melvin Van Peebles teamed up with his son on the 1989 film “Identity Crisis”, with Melvin directing and Mario writing the screenplay and playing a rapper possessed by the soul of a dead fashion designer, reported Variety. Mario Van Peebles directed his father in the 1993 films “Posse” and 1995 “Panther”, the website reported.
Melvin Van Peebles was commissioned by Columbia Pictures to direct 1970s “Watermelon Man,” a racial satire starring Godfrey Cambridge as a fanatical white insurance salesman who uses the toilet in the middle of the night in his suburban home. and finds out he’s black, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
Columbia didn’t want anything to do with “Sweet Sweetback,” but Melvin Van Peebles received a $ 50,000 loan from comedian Bill Cosby, the website reported. He wrote, directed, produced, branded and edited the film and played the role of its anti-hero.
The film was shot in 19 days and cost $ 500,000, according to Variety. It grossed $ 10 million and is considered, along with “Shaft” and “Superfly,” as the trigger for the Blaxploitation film genre.
The soundtrack for the film, starring Earth, Wind & Fire, was released before the film. It was rated X by the MPAA, but Melvin Van Peebles turned that negative into a positive, claiming the film was “Rated X by an all-white jury,” Variety reported.
“If the rest of the community submits to your censorship, that’s their business, but white standards will no longer be imposed on the black community,” Van Peebles said at the time.
The New York Times called Van Peebles “the first black man in show business to beat the white man at his own game.”
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