Veteran filmmaker Melvin Van Peeble, who was dubbed as the ” godfather of black cinema,” has died at the age of 89. It has led directors Ava DuVernay, Barry Jenkins, and Spike Lee to pay the tribute.
The filmmaker was famous for his 19 70s films. It includes films like Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song and Watermelon Man. He died at his home in New York on Tuesday.
A family statement he paid tribute to this ‘relentless innovation’. The former Oscar winner Lee said, “Damn, we have lost another giant!”
Van Peebles’s son and the long-term creative collaborator, actor Mario Van Pebbles said that his dad knew that black image matters. “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,” he said. “It meant appreciating the power, beauty, and interconnectivity of all people.”
He made the comedy film Watermelon Man in 1970 about a white racist or insurance salesman who wakes up and finds out that he is black.
The breakthrough of this elegant came a year later with his movie Sweetback. It is a Blaxploitation film which is about a black man who is trying to escape white police officers. It has also been considered the highest-grossing independent film in the history of that time.
The director further said that all the films up until then were told with the eyes of Anglo- Saxon majority. Thus the film became required viewing for the members of political groups, Black Panther.
The family of the filmmaker announced his death in a joint statement- The Criterion Collection of prestige movies and art house distributor Janus Films.
They have described his career as distinguished with relentless innovation, spiritual empathy, and boundless curiosity. He also made an indelible mark on the international cultural landscape with his films, plays, novels, and music.
Barry Jenkins said, “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 in which he danced his face off. The man just absolutely LIVID.”
The filmmaker graduated with a degree in literature and added the Van to his name. He studied within the Dutch National Theater. He also worked as a writer-artist, musician, director, and novelist.
After his success, he hit on Broadway writing. In the 80s, he turned to Wall Street to work as an options trader on the stock market. He further went on to achieve 17 directing credits and 18 writing credits during his long career with 43 acting credits.