Melvin Van Peebles Dead at Age 89

In Summary

He was known as the “Godfather of Black Cinema,” paving the way for many African American filmmakers and artists to follow.

Melvin Van Peebles, who was known for producing the famous 1970s films, Watermelon Man and Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, has passed away at the age of 89, according to The Hollywood Reporter

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The father of director Mario Van Peebles died in his home on the night of Sept. 22 in Manhattan, New York. A statement regarding his death was put out by his family, The Criterion Collection and Janus Films. 

“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 and is being celebrated at the New York Film Festival this weekend with a 50th anniversary screening of his landmark film Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song; a Criterion Collection box set, Melvin Van Peebles: Essential Films, next week; and a revival of his play Ain’t Supposed to Die a Natural Death, slated for a return to Broadway next year.” 

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He was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, and served in the U.S. Air Force for almost four years. Other than Watermelon Man and Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, Van Peebles has directed films such as Three Pickup Men for HerrickThe Story of a Three-Day PassDon’t Play Us Cheap and Identity Crisis

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Van Peebles was known by many as being the “Godfather of Black Cinema,” and he influenced African American filmmakers such as Spike Lee and John Singleton, according to The Hollywood Reporter.  

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