Mario Van Peebles Remembers His Father Trailblazing Black Filmmaker Melvin Van Peebles

For the first time since news of his father’s death on Tuesday (September 21), actor/director Mario Van Peebles has publicly addressed the enormous loss felt not only by his family, but numerous fans and professional colleagues in Hollywood. 

The iconic filmmaker Melvin Van Peebles died at 89 years old on the evening of Sept. 21 and was surrounded by family at the time of his passing.

His son wrote a tribute to his father, best known throughout generations for directing the 1971 film,  Sweet Sweetback’s Baad Asssss Song, through a moving written tribute. 

“20 years after Melvin made Sweetback outside the studio system, I got to make my film, New Jack City, inside the studio system because of Melvin and other cats like Gordon [Parks] and Ossie [Davis] — but specifically because of Melvin. He made it easier for all of us who have followed,” Van Peebles told The Hollywood Reporter

RELATED: Melvin Van Peebles, Icon Of Black Hollywood, Dead At 89

Melvin was a Renaissance man: an actor, filmmaker, novelist, and composer who used his creative prowess to advance the Civil Rights movement. His “Sweetback” film was a game-changer for Hollywood and became the top-grossing independent film of its time. As his son attests, the film also became an inspiration for other classic movies like Shaft and Superfly

“Sweetback made being a revolutionary hip. After that, Hollywood had a movie written by two white guys — perfectly nice guys — called Shaft. And then they saw that Melvin made a hit with his movie, so they rewrote their movie in blackface. And then after that came Superfly. Sweetback went up against the system, against the status quo, against the man, right? Shaft made working with the man hip. And Superfly made dealing drugs against your own people — poisoning your own people for the man — hip.” 

Mario also notes that as soon as his father was able to successfully launch projects independently, he put other Black people behind and in front of the camera. Hollywood may still be predominantly white and male, but it’s more integrated because of the impeccable and generous legacy left by Melvin Van Peebles. 

At the conclusion of the tribute about his father, Mario simply writes, “he was a pioneer, a maverick and one cool cat.”

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