Melvin Van Peebles, “godfather” of modern black cinema, dies at 89 | Richmond Free Press


NEW YORK – Melvin Van Peebles, revolutionary filmmaker, playwright and musician whose work ushered in the wave of ‘blaxploitation’ of the 1970s and influenced filmmakers long after, has passed away. He was 89 years old.

In a statement, his family said Mr. Van Peebles, father of actor-director Mario Van Peebles, died Tuesday, September 21, 2021, at his Manhattan home.

“Dad knew black pictures matter. If a picture is worth a thousand words, what was a movie worth? Mario Van Peebles said in a statement last week. “We want to be the success that we see, so we have to see ourselves free. True liberation did not mean imitating the mentality of the colonizer. It meant appreciating the power, beauty and interconnectivity of all people.

Sometimes referred to as the “godfather of modern black cinema”, the all-rounder Mr. Van Peebles has written numerous books and plays, and recorded several albums, playing several instruments and delivering rap-style lyrics. He later became a successful options trader in the stock market.

But he is perhaps best known for “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song”, one of the most influential films of its time. The low-budget arthouse film he wrote, produced, directed, acted and recorded was the frenzied, hypersexual and violent story of a black street con artist on the run after killing police officers whites who were defeating a black revolutionary.

With his harsh, harsh depiction of ghetto life, underscored by a message of empowerment as told from a black point of view, he set the tone for a genre that has made dozens of films in the world. over the next few years and sparked a debate over whether black people were recognized or exploited.

“All the films about black people so far have been told through the eyes of the Anglo-Saxon majority in their rhythms, speech and rhythm,” Mr. Van Peebles told Newsweek in 1971, the year of the release of the film.

“I could have called it ‘The Ballad of the Indomitable Candy.’ But I wanted the target audience, the target audience, to know it’s for them, “he told The Associated Press in 2003.” So I said “Baad Asssss,” as you put it. really. “

Produced for roughly $ 500,000, including $ 50,000 provided by Bill Cosby, the film grossed $ 14 million at the box office despite an X rating, limited distribution and mixed reviews. The New York Times, for example, accused Mr. Van Peebles of commodifying injustice and called the film “contempt.”

Mr. Van Peebles, who complained fiercely to the Motion Picture Association about the X rating, gave the film the slogan: “Rated X by an all-white jury.”

Born Melvin Peebles in Chicago on August 21, 1932, he would later add “Van” to his name. He graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University in 1953 and joined the Air Force, serving as a navigator for three years.

After his military service, he moved to Mexico and worked as a portrait painter, then moved to San Francisco, where he began writing short stories and directing short films.

Mr. Van Peebles quickly traveled to Hollywood, but was only offered a job as a studio elevator operator. Disappointed, he moved to Holland to take graduate courses in astronomy while studying at the Dutch National Theater.

Eventually, he abandoned his studies and moved to Paris, where he learned that he could join the guild of French directors if he adapted his own work written in French. He quickly learned the language on his own and wrote several novels.


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