Melvin Van Peebles, whose low-budget 1971 phenomenon, “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song” — an X-rated film about a Black revolutionary’s survival on the run — proved a milestone of independent and African American cinema, died Sept. 21 at his home in Manhattan. He was 89.
His family, the Criterion Collection and Janus Films announced the death but did not provide a cause.
Over a six-decade career, Mr. Van Peebles continually reinvented himself: as an Air Force officer, a San Francisco cable-car gripman (operator), a self-taught film auteur, a novelist in English and French, a Tony Award-nominated playwright and composer, an Emmy Award-winning TV writer, a spoken-word artist, and, for a spell in the 1980s, the only Black floor trader on the American Stock Exchange.
Throughout his life, Mr. Van Peebles was propelled and defined by his boundless self-confidence and bravado. As a young man — lacking money, connections and institutional support — he practically willed himself into recognition as a visual artist.
Of course, I’m sure all the commenters will be outraged that a Black revolutionary might use violence that was portrayed on film. Nonviolence of course is all that ever makes sense in a social movement and of course makes for the best movies.