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Groundbreaking filmmaker and novelist Melvin Van Peebles, father of director and actor Mario Van Peebles, has passed away at 89.

His passing was confirmed by Mario in an official statement.

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“Dad knew that Black images matter,” Mario 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.”

Born in Chicago in 1932, Van Peebles graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University with a B.A. in literature. Two weeks later, he joined the Air Force where he served for nearly four years. 

After authoring the book The Big Heart, he made his first foray into filmmaking with his first short, Pickup Men for Herrick, made in 1957.

A visionary who broke down down doors for Black creatives, Melvin went on to direct the 1971 classic Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song which he wrote, directed, scored, edited, and starred in. His other notable films include The Story of a Three-Day Pass, Watermelon Man,  and Don’t Play Us Cheap.

Van Peebles won a Daytime Emmy and a Humanitas Prize in 1987 for writing an episode of a CBS Schoolbreak Special, “The Day They Came to Arrest the Books.” A true renaissance man, he also authored Bold Money, a manual on how to trade stock options.

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Melvin frequently collaborated with Mario on the big and small screens. They worked together on the 1989 film Identity Crisis which Melvin directed and Mario wrote and starred in. Then, Melvin appeared in Mario’s 1993 film Posse, and in Mario’s drama Panther, a film adaptation from Melvin’s novel. The duo made an appearance on an episode of Living Single titled “Like Fathers, Like Sons,” where they discover they’re both dating Regine (Kim Fields).

In 2003, Mario directed the film Baadassss!, a documentary that pays homage to his father’s iconic film.

At the time of his passing, Sweet Sweetback was set to be played at the New York Film Festival later this week marking its 50th anniversary.

Summing up his remarkable life, the Criterion Collection noted, “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 added.

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