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Influential filmmaker Melvin Van Peebles dies at 89

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Influential filmmaker Melvin Van Peebles, whom many consider the godfather of modern Black cinema, has died at age 89.

On behalf of his family, The Criterion Collection and Janus Films confirmed his passing in a statement posted Wednesday.

“In an unparalleled career distinguished by relentless innovation, boundless curiosity and spiritual empathy, Melvin Van Peebles made an indelible mark on the international cultural landscape through his films, novels, plays and music,” the statement reads.

It continues, “His work continues to be essential and is being celebrated at the New York Film Festival this weekend with a 50th anniversary screening of his landmark film Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song; a Criterion Collection box set, Melvin Van Peebles: Essential Films, next week; and a revival of his play Ain’t Supposed to Die a Natural Death, slated for a return to Broadway next year.”

Van Peebles’ son, actor-director Mario Van Peebles, adds in the statement, “Dad knew that Black images matter. 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.”

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