Melvin Van Peebles appears at Tribeca Film Festival in 2008
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Melvin Van Peebles has died at the age of 89, his son confirmed in a statement. The pioneering filmmaker and and actor died at home in Manhattan on Tuesday. Tributes have poured in with the Netflix Strong Black Lead account calling the filmmaker the “Godfather of Black cinema” in their tribute.
Melvin was the filmmaker behind Watermelon Man and Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, as well as starring in films like Jaws: The Revenge.
His death was announced in a joint statement from his family, The Criterion Collection and Janus Films.
This read: “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.
“In an unparalleled career, Van Peebles made an indelible mark on the international cultural landscape. He will be deeply missed.”
Speaking about his father’s death, his son Mario paid tribute to his work: “Dad knew that Black images matter.
“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 coloniser’s mentality.
“It meant appreciating the power, beauty and interconnectivity of all people.”
Chicago-born Melvin started his career in the Air Force before making the switch to filmmaking in the 1960s.
His first Hollywood film was Watermelon Man, which follows a casually racist white man who wakes up as a black man.
The 1971 film Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song was another of his widely acclaimed works, which he wrote, directed and starred in.
Alongside his pioneering filmmaking, Melvin was also an actor having had roles in Jaws: The Revenge, Terminal Velocity and Redemption Road.
Following his death, tributes have been pouring in for Melvin from influential figures.
Ava DuVernay wrote: “‘You have to not let yourself believe you can’t. Do what you can do within the framework you have. And don’t look outside. Look inside.’ – the iconic artist, filmmaker, actor, playwright, novelist, composer and sage Melvin Van Peebles, who has gone home at the age of 89.”
Barry Jenkins, who won an Oscar for his film Moonlight, paid tribute on social media.
He penned: “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 absolutely danced his face off. The man just absolutely LIVED.”
Posting on Instagram, Spike Lee wrote: “I am so saddened by the loss of my brother Melvin Van Peebles who brought independent black cinema to the forefront with his groundbreaking film Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song.
“Melvin was a big supporter of my film career. He even showed up to the set of Do The Right Thing. Damn, we have lost another giant.”
Rapper MC Hammer penned: “Thank You, KING. It’s not only what you did but the times and circumstances you did them in. Dignified Innovator. A filmmaker who was the essence and embodiment of indy film in ‘struggle times.’
“The beauty is you lived to see the fruits of your labour birth and feed many.”
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