Melvin Van Peebles, pioneer and critic of the Blaxploitation film genre, dies at 89

Melvin Van Peebles, the influential filmmaker behind the 70s blaxploitation film Sweet Sweetback’s Baadassss Song and father of director and actor Mario Van Peebles, has died at 89 at his New York home.

‘Dad knew that Black images matter,’ Mario Van Peebles said 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.’ 

Visionary: Melvin Van Peebles, the influential filmmaker behind the 70s blaxploitation film Sweet Sweetback's Baadassss Song and father of director and actor Mario Van Peebles, has died at 89

Visionary: Melvin Van Peebles, the influential filmmaker behind the 70s blaxploitation film Sweet Sweetback's Baadassss Song and father of director and actor Mario Van Peebles, has died at 89

Visionary: Melvin Van Peebles, the influential filmmaker behind the 70s blaxploitation film Sweet Sweetback’s Baadassss Song and father of director and actor Mario Van Peebles, has died at 89

Sweet Sweetback will be screened at the New York Film Festival this week for a 50th anniversary tribute. 

‘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 Criterion Collection said.

In Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, Van Peebles starred as the title character, an orphan (portrayed as a child by Van Peebles’ son Mario) raised in a California bordello, who finds himself on the run from the law after stopping a black militant from being beat by cops.

Van Peebles said he wrote and directed the feature in dedication to ‘all of the Black brothers and sisters who have had enough of the Man.’ 

Produced on a total budget of $500,000, Sweetback saw box office of $10 million.

His breakout: In Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, Van Peebles starred as the title character, an orphan (portrayed as a child by Van Peebles' son Mario) raised in a California bordello, who finds himself on the run from the law after stopping a black militant from being beat by cops. He also wrote and directed the feature

His breakout: In Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, Van Peebles starred as the title character, an orphan (portrayed as a child by Van Peebles' son Mario) raised in a California bordello, who finds himself on the run from the law after stopping a black militant from being beat by cops. He also wrote and directed the feature

His breakout: In Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, Van Peebles starred as the title character, an orphan (portrayed as a child by Van Peebles’ son Mario) raised in a California bordello, who finds himself on the run from the law after stopping a black militant from being beat by cops. He also wrote and directed the feature

Father-son duo! He worked closely with his son Mario Van Peebles through life, seen together in 2004 above

Father-son duo! He worked closely with his son Mario Van Peebles through life, seen together in 2004 above

Father-son duo! He worked closely with his son Mario Van Peebles through life, seen together in 2004 above

A few months after, the studio-made, Gordon Parks-directed Shaft, starring Richard Roundtree, was released and became a significant success.

Sweetback and Shaft, together with the following year’s Superfly, directed by Gordon Parks Jr., are generally regarded as having together given birth to the Blaxploitation genre.

Van Peebles, however, was critical of many Blaxploitation films for being devoid of political content.

The multitalented Melvin Van Peebles had four shows on Broadway, the first of which was Ain’t Suppose to Die a Natural Death, for which he wrote the book, music and lyrics.

He followed with Don’t Play Us Cheap!, which earned a Tony nomination, as well as Reggae: A Musical Revelation and Waltz of the Stork, which was later turned into the 2008 movie Confessionsofa Ex-Doofus-ItchyFooted Mutha.

Critical: Though he was influential in the genre, Van Peebles was critical of many Blaxploitation films for being devoid of political content

Critical: Though he was influential in the genre, Van Peebles was critical of many Blaxploitation films for being devoid of political content

Critical: Though he was influential in the genre, Van Peebles was critical of many Blaxploitation films for being devoid of political content

Wild ride: Melvin Van Peebles was born in Chicago and attended West Virginia State College before heading to Ohio Wesleyan University, where he earned a B.A. in English literature. He served in the Air Force as a navigator-bombardier for three years. Seen in 2015 above

Wild ride: Melvin Van Peebles was born in Chicago and attended West Virginia State College before heading to Ohio Wesleyan University, where he earned a B.A. in English literature. He served in the Air Force as a navigator-bombardier for three years. Seen in 2015 above

Wild ride: Melvin Van Peebles was born in Chicago and attended West Virginia State College before heading to Ohio Wesleyan University, where he earned a B.A. in English literature. He served in the Air Force as a navigator-bombardier for three years. Seen in 2015 above

He earned a Daytime Emmy in 1987 for the CBS Schoolbreak Special episode The Day They Came to Arrest the Books.

Melvin Van Peebles was born in Chicago and attended West Virginia State College before heading to Ohio Wesleyan University, where he earned a B.A. in English literature. He served in the Air Force as a navigator-bombardier for three years.

Van Peebles experimented with career as a painter, and, transitioned his medium to short film after finding himself appalled by the racist portrayal of African Americans in movies in the late ’50s and early ’60s. 

He did stints as a postal worker and, in San Francisco, a cable-car grip — about which he wrote his first book, The Big Heart, in 1957. 

He spent some time in Mexico; in Holland he studied astronomy at the University of Amsterdam and acting at the Dutch National Theater.

Edgy: His first directing assignment in the U.S. would come next with Watermelon Man, a comedy about a bigoted white man who's turned into a Black man (played by comedian Godfrey Cambridge) overnight

Edgy: His first directing assignment in the U.S. would come next with Watermelon Man, a comedy about a bigoted white man who's turned into a Black man (played by comedian Godfrey Cambridge) overnight

Edgy: His first directing assignment in the U.S. would come next with Watermelon Man, a comedy about a bigoted white man who’s turned into a Black man (played by comedian Godfrey Cambridge) overnight

The Cinematheque Francaise invited Van Peebles to screen his shorts at its theater in Paris, where he spent some time as a street entertainer and wrote five novels, one of which would be adapted into his first feature film The Story Of The Tree-Day Pass (1968.)

The tale follows the interracial love story between a Black soldier and a white girl, which leads to his demotion in the military.

His first directing assignment in the U.S. would come next with Watermelon Man, a comedy about a bigoted white man who’s turned into a Black man (played by comedian Godfrey Cambridge) overnight.

Van Peebles was married once, to the German-born actress and photographer Maria Marx, in the 1950s, but the marriage ended in divorce after several years.

In addition to son Mario, he is survived by daughter Megan Van Peebles, an occasional actress, and son Max Van Peebles, an occasional actor and assistant director, and grandchildren.

Patriarch: In addition to son Mario, he is survived by daughter Megan Van Peebles, son Max Van Peebles, and grandchildren. Seen in 2013 above

Patriarch: In addition to son Mario, he is survived by daughter Megan Van Peebles, son Max Van Peebles, and grandchildren. Seen in 2013 above

Patriarch: In addition to son Mario, he is survived by daughter Megan Van Peebles, son Max Van Peebles, and grandchildren. Seen in 2013 above

link

(Visited 41 times, 1 visits today)

Leave a Reply