Melvin Van Peebles, Founding Auteur of Blaxploitation, Dies at 89

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Melvin Van Peebles, Founding Auteur of Blaxploitation, Dies at 89

Behind the Blaxploitation movement in Hollywood, there was Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song. Behind Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, there was filmmaker Melvin Van Peebles. The influential auteur has died at age 89.

Van Peebles died on Tuesday night, “at home with family,” according to a statement released by Janus Films and the Criterion Collection. The full statement can be seen below:

“Dad knew that Black images matter,” said Van Peebles’ son, actor and filmmaker Mario. “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. It meant appreciating the power, beauty and interconnectivity of all people.”

Aside from 1971’s Earth, Wind & Fire-soundtracked Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, which turned 50 this year, Van Peebles was known for the satirical Watermelon Man, his acting work, playwrighting (his Tony-nominated Ain’t Supposed to Die a Natural Death was set to return to Broadway in 2022) and novels.

The all-around artist inspired regardless of form, though his films—many of which are collected in the new Melvin Van Peebles: Essential Films set from Criterion—ushered in the sights and sounds that would influence the next generation of Black directors, writers and actors. With a career spanning Paris to Detroit to Hollywood, Van Peebles was an assured trailblazer of both style and content.

Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song will play at New York Film Festival on September 26 and 27.

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