“We are saddened to announce the passing of an American film giant, Melvin Van Peebles, who died last night (the night from Tuesday to Wednesday), at home with his family, at the age of 89 “, His son, actor Mario Van Peebles, and film distribution company Criterion Collection announced in a statement. “During a unique career, Mr. Van Peebles has left an indelible mark on the global cultural landscape. He will be sorely missed.”
The director lived a youth with a thousand professions. A stint in the Air Force as a navigator-bomber, a life as an artist in Mexico City, a short career in transport, Melvin Van Peebles was a jack of all trades. It was a passer-by who suggested that one day become a director, he then began to shoot his first films. They did not experience much success in Hollywood, where the director dreams of asserting himself wants to impose himself.
However, these feature films caught the eye of a Frenchman, who offered to show them in his country. Melvin Van Peebles, who originally didn’t speak a word of Molière’s language, begins translating the magazine Mad in French. He also works in collaboration with the newspaper Hara-kiri. From 1964 to 1966, he signed The chronicle of the gard who knows what he’s talking about, and also publishes Chinese of the 14th century, illustrated by Roland Topor, and prefaced by André Hardelet. He tells about the tribulations of Café Mon Moulin in the 1960s. When the power goes out in the neighborhood, regulars at the bar gather around candles and a bottle of wine, each telling their story.
In 1968, he directed his film in France, Permission. The latter tells about the meeting of a black soldier and a young white Frenchwoman, after which the GI will be arrested. This is the premises of the cinematographic movement of “Blaxploitation”, of which he will be the instigator: films made by and for blacks. He revalorized the image of African Americans, in an America still marked by segregation, by giving them dignified and leading roles. This first film won the Critics’ Prize at the San Francisco Film Festival, and finally opened the doors of Hollywood studios to him, after several years.
Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, released in 1971, is a low-budget film about a man in pornographic shows who kills two racist cops for beating up a Black Panthers activist. This work inspires many younger directors, such as Spike Lee and Barry Jenkins.“I didn’t even know I had an inheritance”, he told the New York Times in 2010. “I do what I want to do”.
Sweet Sweetback, which he wrote, directed and financed, and in which he stars, had only been released in two theaters but thanks to word of mouth it ended up grossing $ 10 million, making the independent film the most profitable in history at the time, according to the Hollywood Reporter.