Melvin Van Peebles, a true giant of Black cinema, has passed away. He was 89.
Van Peebles is best known for 1971’s Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, a cult classic film that he wrote, directed and self-financed and released independently. The groundbreaking film proved that a Black director could be successful and had an audience, and is often credited with starting the Blaxploitation era of Hollywood cinema in the 1970’s.
“Dad knew that Black images matter,” said his son, fellow auteur Mario Van Peebles, in a 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.”
Sweet Sweetback‘s soundtrack is how Van Peebles marketed his indie film, and the album (released before the film) featured the music of a then on the rise R&B, funk and genre-defying group called Earth, Wind & Fire.
Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song was added to the Library of Congress just last year. Upon news of his passing, many of Black Hollywood’s elite including Ava DuVernay, Barry Jenkins and David Allan Grier promptly began saluting the legend. We compiled some of the more compelling tributes below.
Rest powerful Melvin Van Peebles.
12. Melvin Van PeeblesSource:Getty
American actor and filmmaker Melvin Van Peebles in New York City, 1971. He is posing outside a cinema which is showing his action thriller ‘Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song’. (Photo by Pix/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)