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Barry Jenkins, Sherri Shepherd mourn film pioneer Melvin Van Peebles, dead at 89: “True Hollywood titan”

Family, friends and fans mourned the passing of iconic filmmaker Melvin Van Peebles on Wednesday.

Van Peebles, a beloved and influential figure in Black cinema, died at his New York City home on Tuesday night at the age of 89. Van Peebles rose to prominence by directing films like 1970’s Watermelon Man and the 1971 “blaxploitation” classic Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, which he also wrote, produced and starred in.

Celebrity fans and colleagues took to Twitter to pay tribute to Van Peebles shortly after news of his death emerged.

“We’ve lost another lion, the true revolutionary, an artistic gangsta, cultural disrupter who forever changed the game Rest n Peace Melvin Van Peebles,” tweeted actor and comedian David Alan Grier.

We’ve lost another lion, the true revolutionary, an artistic gangsta, cultural disrupter who forever changed the game Rest n Peace Melvin Van Peebles ✊🏾🙏🏾✊🏾 pic.twitter.com/OH9D6Slnbx

— David Alan Grier (@davidalangrier) September 22, 2021

“Melvin Van Peebles, Godfather of Black Cinema, Dies at 89,” actress and comedian Sherri Shepherd tweeted. “A true Hollywood titan! Prayers for his family and friends! #RIP #MelvinVanPeebles”

“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,” Moonlight filmmaker Barry Jenkins tweeted.

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

“In my humble opinion, still to this day, Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song is the most radical American movie ever made,” tweeted writer and director Larry Charles. “And he essential did it all himself. #MelvinVanPeeblesRIP”

“When I was young Melvin Van Peebles was a role model,” author and filmmaker Nelson George tweeted. “Melvin was an iconoclast, a filmmaker, a novelist, a playwright, a bon vivant, cigar smoker, international traveler, a runner, a maker of odd furniture. I’m lucky to have to known him. A giant. #ripmelvinvanpeebles”

When I was young Melvin Van Peebles was a role model. Melvin was an iconoclast, a filmmaker, a novelist, a playwright, a bon vivant, cigar smoker, international traveler, a runner, a maker of odd furniture. I’m lucky to have to known him. A giant. #ripmelvinvanpeebles

— Nelson George (@nelsongeorge) September 22, 2021

“‘Game changer’ is an overused phrase but Melvin Van Peebles was one of those filmmakers who torched what came before and set the tone for what came after,” writer Dean Van Nguyen tweeted. “Even if you don’t know the name the Hollywood you know is better because of what he delivered. Salute a true titan”.

“Game changer” is an overused phrase but Melvin Van Peebles was one of those filmmakers who torched what came before and set the tone for what came after. Even if you don’t know the name the Hollywood you know is better because of what he delivered. Salute a true titan https://t.co/wxdlnAL4wI

— Dean Van Nguyen (@deanvannguyen) September 22, 2021

“Melvin Van Peebles fundamentally changed black cinema,” filmmakers and comedians The Lucas Brothers tweeted. “We are all indebted to his contributions to the grammar of our particular language of cinema. Thank you.”

Melvin Van Peebles fundamentally changed black cinema. We are all indebted to his contributions to the grammar of our particular language of cinema. Thank you. pic.twitter.com/RDlLydNR0l

— the lucas bros (@lucasbros) September 22, 2021

Van Peebles is survived by two sons, including actor and director Mario Van Peebles. His daughter Megan Van Peebles died in 2006. The filmmaker’s death was announced in a press release that his family issued alongside Janus Films and The Criterion Collection, companies that distributed his films.

“Dad knew that Black images matter,” Mario Van Peebles said in a statement. “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.”

Newsweek reached out to Van Peebles’ representatives for comment.

Fans paid tribute to filmmaker Melvin Van Peebles after the pioneer of Black cinema died at the age of 89 this week. Van Peebles is pictured posing near a beach locker dedicated to him in Deauville, France on September 5, 2012.
Francois G. Durand/WireImage/Getty



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