Iconic filmmaker Melvin Van Peebles has died at 89 years old.
The Criterion Collection and Janus Films said in a statement, “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 continued, “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.”
Born in Chicago, Peebles’ breakthrough film was 1971’s Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, which many credit as the first Blaxploitation flick. The movie was a labor of love from Melvin Van Peebles, who wrote, produced, directed and starred (along with his son Mario Van Peebles) in the gritty drama. Bill Cosby even gave him a loan to complete the project, which went on to earn a place in Black cinema history.
Our condolences go out to Melvin Van Peebles’ family, friends and supporters.