Noted filmmaker Melvin Van Peebles dies

Wave Staff Report

One of the giants of Black cinema, Melvin Van Peebles, died Sept. 21 at his home in New York. He was 89.

The film director was best known for his independent films “Watermelon Man” (1970) and Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song” (1971).

National Public Radio said his movies helped pave the way for the renegade genre known as blaxpolitation. “They were bitingly funny, sexually swaggering and occasionally violent, [and] put Black protagonists front and center,” NPR said. 

His son, Mario Van Peeples, followed his father into the film industry as an actor and filmmaker.

His family, the Criterion Collection and Janus Films confirmed his death in a statement released Sept. 22.

“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 statement said. “His work continues to be essential.”

Director Barry Jenkins paid tribute to Van Peebles, saying on Twitter “he made the most of every second, of every single damn frame and admittedly, while the last time I spent any time with him was many years ago, it was a night when he absolutely danced his face off.

“The man just absolutely lived.”

Memorial services are pending.

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