Melvin Van Peebles Dies: Iconic Filmmaker was 89

Melvin Van Peebles at the "Peeples" World Premiere, Arclight, Hollywood, CA 05-08-13 — Photo by s_bukley/Deposit Photos

Melvin Van Peebles, the legendary filmmaker behind Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, has died. He was 89.
The director, actor and writer’s death was confirmed in a statement Wednesday from video distribution company the Criterion Collection on behalf of the Peebles family.

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,” Criterion tweeted.

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Celebrities and fellow writers reacted to the news of his death Wednesday on social media.

David Alan Grier tweeted: “We’ve lost another lion, the true revolutionary, an artistic gangsta, cultural disrupter who forever changed the game, rest in peace Melvin Van Peebles.”

Pulitzer Prize winner @RobertRayWisdom tweeted: “The Great Melvin Van Peeples. Rest. You changed the game.”

Oscar-winning filmmaker @MatthewACherry tweeted: “Damn. Rest in peace Melvin Van Peebles. The blueprint and inspiration for multiple generations of filmmakers. A whole legend.”
Van Peebles wrote, co-produced, edited, directed and starred in Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, a 1971 blaxploitation film that tells the story of a poor Black man fleeing white police officers.

His son, Mario Van Peebles, had a small part in the film as a young boy. In addition to his work in film, the elder Van Peebles was a playwright and novelist. He wrote books such as “Don’t Play Us Cheap: A Harlem Partyand Bold Money: A New Way to Play the Options Market.”

In 2005, Van Peebles was the subject of the documentary How to Eat Your Watermelon in White Company (and Enjoy It).

He is survived by his son Mario, son Max Van Peebles, and daughter Megan Van Peebles, as well as numerous grandchildren.