Director and writer Melvin Van Peebles, an important figure in African American cinema who has been prominent in his films about the “blaxplotation” (the exploitation of blacks) film movement, died Tuesday at the age of 89 in New York.
“My father knew that black photos matter,” one of his sons, Mario Van Peebles, said in a statement today.
“We want to be the success we see, and therefore we need to see ourselves as free,” he added in the text, in which he also stated that “true liberation does not mean imitating the mentality of the colonizer.”
The director and writer influenced a generation of African American filmmakers, including Spike Lee and John Singleton, with films in which the African American community was the protagonist and which were part of the black film boom in the United States in the 1970s.
Van Peebles is best known for directing productions such as the indie classic “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song” – which will be showing this week at the New York Film Festival for its 50th anniversary – a “Three Days Story” pass. and “Watermelon Man” and “Don’t Play Us Cheap.”
Sweet Sweetback, which tells the story of an African-American man on the run from white authorities, was shot in 19 days on a meager $500,000 budget, but has racked up more than $10 million at the box office, and gone on to become a standalone. The film has achieved the greatest economic success to date.
Watermelon Man also became a blockbuster, after which Van Peeble was offered a three-film production contract for Colombia, which he declined in order to continue making films freely.
“In an unparalleled profession characterized by relentless innovation, boundless curiosity and spiritual compassion, Melvin van Pepel has left an indelible mark on the international cultural scene through his films, novels, plays and music,” Criterion Group, distributor of many of his films, said of his side.