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Melvin Van Peebles, Godfather of Black cinema, dies at 89

The director passed away on Tuesday night (Sept. 21) at his home in Manhattan.

Melvin Van Peebles WireImage

Melvin Van Peebles, the Godfather of Black cinema, has passed away at the age of 89.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, the director passed away on Tuesday night (Sept. 21) at his home in Manhattan. His family, Janus Films and The Criterion Collection announced his death in a statement on Wednesday (Sept. 22). “We are saddened to announce the passing of a giant of American cinema, Melvin Van Peebles, who died last night, at home with family, at the age of 89,” The Criterion Collection tweeted. “In an unparalleled career, Van Peebles made an indelible mark on the international cultural landscape. He will be deeply missed.”

Peebles was best known for Sweet Sweetback’s Baadassss Song, a film that he financed and released independently. Since he could not afford to properly market the project, he used the film’s soundtrack to develop awareness for the movie. Peebles proved that cinemas about Black life in America were profitable. He dedicated Sweet Sweetback’s Baadassss Song to “all of the Black brothers and sisters who have had enough of the Man.”

Peebles was also an actor and starred in several films such as Boomerang, True Identity, Terminal Velocity, The Hebrew Hammer and Last Action Hero. He was an influence on younger filmmakers, including John Singleton and Spike Lee.

Mario Van Peebles also confirmed his father’s death. “Dad knew that Black images matter,” he said in a statement. “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.”

The REVOLT team would like to send our deepest condolences to Peebles’ family and friends. May he rest in peace.

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