As word came in about the death of Melvin Van Peebles, tributes quickly poured in for a “true revolutionary” and a “genius auteur” from filmmakers and actors such as Spike Lee, Barry Jenkins, Ava DuVernay and David Alan Grier.
The godfather of Black cinema, who died in his home on Tuesday night at age 89, was hailed by critics and Hollywood stars as an example an “iconic” figure who inspired countless generations of filmmakers and shaped popular culture years in the future.
“He made the most of every second, of EVERY single damn frame,” Jenkins said, recalling a meeting with Van Peebles one night many years ago. “The man just absolutely LIVED.”
His son, actor-director Mario Van Peebles, also paid tribute. “Dad knew that Black images matter. If a picture is worth a thousand words, what is a movie worth? We want to be the success we see, thus we need to see ourselves being free,” Mario Van Peebles wrote in a statement. “True liberation did not mean imitating the colonizer’s mentality. It meant appreciating the power, beauty and interconnectivity of all people.”
““We lost a true legend today in so many senses of the word. Melvin Van Peebles was a cinematic icon whose bold and unapologetic work exploded on the scene, capturing the attention of our culture, inspiring the hearts and minds of so many, and influencing the work of countless filmmakers. Melvin was a constant presence at the Guild, always supporting and nurturing his fellow filmmakers. He also served on the Eastern Directors Council, and was proudly honored by the African American Steering Committee for his numerous contributions. Melvin’s mark on cinema will never be forgotten. Our thoughts are with his family and friends,” the Director’s Guild of America said.
Spike Lee credited Van Peebles as a “big supporter” of Lee’s own film career (and shared a signed poster of the older auteur’s breakout hit “Sweet Sweetback’s Badassssss Song”). “I Am So Saddened By The Loss Of My Brother Melvin Van Pebbles Who Brought Independent Black Cinema To The Forefront,” Lee wrote. “Damn We Have Lost Another Giant!”
“We’ve lost another lion, the true revolutionary, an artistic gangsta, cultural disrupter who forever changed the game Rest n Peace Melvin Van Peebles,” Grier said in a tweet.
His actor-director son Mario Van Peebles announced the news of his passing on Wednesday along with the Criterion Collection and Janus Films.
Van Peebles, the father of actor Mario Van Peebles, was the director and star of the 1971 blaxploitation classic “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song,” an iconic blaxploitation film starring Van Peebles as a Black male prostitute named Sweet Sweetback who goes on the run from white cops after saving a Black Panther from a racist attack. (Son Mario makes a brief appearance in a flashback as the boyhood version of the title character.)
While Van Peebles inspired filmmakers like the late John Singleton and Spike Lee, he also received a loan to make “Sweet Sweetback” from Bill Cosby, who also paid tribute to the director in a social media post, pointing out that beyond his films he was an accomplished songwriter, playwright and novelist.
“He was very prolific and, at times, prophetic,” Cosby wrote. “In his time, Melvin did not have the luxury that producers and directors have today. Thank you, Melvin.”
Actor Saul Rubinek, who co-starred with Van Peebles in “Blackout,” wrote: “I had the great good fortune of benefiting from Melvin’s kindness, humor, and vast reserves of talent. There will never be another like him.”
The Directors Guild of America also issued a statement in memory of Van Peebles: “We lost a true legend today in so many senses of the word. Melvin Van Peebles was a cinematic icon whose bold and unapologetic work exploded on the scene, capturing the attention of our culture, inspiring the hearts and minds of so many, and influencing the work of countless filmmakers. Melvin was a constant presence at the Guild, always supporting and nurturing his fellow filmmakers. He also served on the Eastern Directors Council, and was proudly honored by the African American Steering Committee for his numerous contributions. Melvin’s mark on cinema will never be forgotten. Our thoughts are with his family and friends.”
See some other tributes to Melvin Van Peebles from around the web below:
He made the most of every second, of EVERY single damn frame and admittedly, while the last time I spent any time with him was MANY years ago, it was a night in which he absolutely danced his face off. The man just absolutely LIVED pic.twitter.com/IIpfU8wI7q
— Barry Jenkins (@BarryJenkins) September 22, 2021
“You have to not let yourself believe you can’t. Do what you can do within the framework you have. And don’t look outside. Look inside.”
― the iconic artist, filmmaker, actor, playwright, novelist, composer and sage Melvin Van Peebles, who has gone home at the age of 89. pic.twitter.com/36BQKzN9G7
— Ava DuVernay (@ava) September 22, 2021
RIP Melvin Van Peebles, a true Renaissance man and trailblazing independent filmmaker.
Fifty years ago, Van Peebles made SWEET SWEETBACK'S BADASSSSS SONG, an essential early blaxplotation film – the film was added to the National Film Registry last year.
Thank you, Melvin. pic.twitter.com/HB1i91ultL
— The Black List (@theblcklst) September 22, 2021
— Cheo Hodari Coker (@cheo_coker) September 22, 2021
Damn. Rest In Peace Melvin Van Peebles. The blueprint and inspiration for multiple generations of filmmakers. A whole legend. https://t.co/CfHBbXqIgT
— Matthew A. Cherry (@MatthewACherry) September 22, 2021
RIP Melvin Van Peebles, a genius auteur who sparked a revolution in '70s Black cinema, w/out whom the films of Tarantino and Spike Lee would be irrevocably different, who introduced Earth Wind & Fire to the world, and possessed unimpeachable integrity & futuristic searing vision. pic.twitter.com/53ZlISRfOz
— Otto Von Biz Markie (@Passionweiss) September 22, 2021
We’ve lost another lion, the true revolutionary, an artistic gangsta, cultural disrupter who forever changed the game Rest n Peace Melvin Van Peebles
— David Alan Grier (@davidalangrier) September 22, 2021
To the ultimate baadasssss.
Thank you Melvin Van Peebles for changing the course of cinema.
Photography by Michael Ochs Archives / Stringer pic.twitter.com/cPxJa4EZgE
— NetflixFilm (@NetflixFilm) September 22, 2021
It is with a heavy heart that we share that our close friend and pioneering African-American auteur, Melvin Van Peebles, passed away last night. Our thoughts go out to his friends and loved ones. @THR remembers him here: https://t.co/Ztde3TW8z3 pic.twitter.com/mUKurOllpM
— TCM (@tcm) September 22, 2021