Oroville Mercury-Register

Melvin Van Peebles, godfather of Black cinema, dies at 89

- By Jake Coyle

Melvin Van Peebles, the groundbrea­king playwright, musician and movie director whose work ushered in the “Blaxploita­tion” wave of the 1970s and influenced filmmakers long after, has died. He was 89.

His family said in a statement that Van Peebles, father of the actor-director Mario Van Peebles, died Tuesday evening at his home in Manhattan.

“Dad knew that Black images matter. If a picture is worth a thousand words, what was a movie worth?” Mario Van Peebles said in a statement Wednesday. “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.”

Sometimes called the “godfather of modern Black cinema,” the multitalen­ted Van Peebles wrote numerous books and plays, and recorded several albums — playing multiple instrument­s and delivering rap-style lyrics. He later became a successful options trader on the stock market.

But he was best known for “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song!” one of the most influentia­l movies of its time. The lowbudget, art-house film, which he wrote, produced, directed, starred in and scored, was the frenzied, hyper-sexual and violent tale of a Black street hustler on the run from police after killing white officers who were beating a Black revolution­ary.

With its hard-living, tough-talking depiction of life in the ghetto, underscore­d by a message of empowermen­t as told from a Black perspectiv­e, it set the tone for a genre that turned out dozens of films over the next few years and prompted a debate over whether Blacks were being recognized or exploited.

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