Veteran actor and filmmaker Melvin Van Peebles has reportedly passed away. Van Peebles, whose son Mario and grandson Mandela have both followed in his footsteps as acting stars, died on Wednesday with a cause of death not yet immediately revealed. The Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song filmmaker was 89 years old. His passing was addressed in a statement from Mario Van Peebles through the Criterion Collection.
"Dad knew that Black images matter," Mario Van Peebles said. "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."
For his wor, Van Peebles may be best known for creating and starring in the 1971 blaxploitation movie Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song. His son Mario is also featured in the small role as a young boy, and the movie follows a poor Black man fleeing from white police officers. Just last year, the movie was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."
Melvin and son Mario Van Peebles had collaborated on several occasions. This includes Mario starring as a rapper possessed by a deceased fashion designer in Identity Crisis, which Melvin directed. A handful of years later, Melvin returned the favor by appearing in Mario's movie Posse in 1993, which also starred Mario. Melvin later appeared in the Mario-directed Black Panther drama Panther in 1995, a movie also written by the elder Van Peebles. In 1998, Melvin would appear in Mario's Love Kills and would later have a role in the Mario-directed movie Redemption Road in 2010.
As an actor, Melvin Van Peebles has appeared in many other notable movies throughout the years. This includes roles in titles like Jaws: The Revenge, Boomerang, Terminal Velocity, Fist of the North Star, BlacKout, and Armed. He reprised his role as Sweetback in The Hebrew Hammer in 2003. Notably, he also played the character Grandpa Peeples in Tina Gordon Chism's 2013 romantic comedy Peeples. Melvin also starred in the NBC sitcom Sonny Spoon as a private detective and played Dick Hallorann in the 1997 miniseries adaptation of The Shining.
Last year, we spoke with Melvin's grandson Mandela about what it's like to success his father and grandfather as the next Van Peebles in Hollywood. The collaborations with family are also happening with the youngest actor of the family, as Mandela starred in his dad's action thriller A Clear Shot.
"Growing up, I was always around my dad working on set, and it was just natural to be there and seeing him work," Mandela told us. "So at a certain point, I realized, man, this is actually awesome. If I can make my career and do that as well, and follow in his and my grandfather's footsteps, that would be not only fun, but creative and kind of a fulfilling path to take."
Melvin Van Peebles was previously married to actress Maria Marx in the 1950s, but the union ended in divorce after several years. His survivors include son Mario, daughter Megan Van Peebles, son Max Van Peebles, grandson Mandela Van Peebles, and at least two other grandchildren. Our thoughts go out to the Van Peebles family at this difficult time. Rest in peace, Melvin Van Peebles, and thank you for your contributions to cinema history.