Melvin Van Peebles Has Died – Who Was He and How Should He Be Remembered?



Image via Variety

Yasmine Bonner, Staff Writer

Melvin Van Peebles has unfortunately died. Who was he, and how should he be remembered? 

Before becoming a visionary of film work and plays, and before getting his Bachelor of Arts at Ohio Wesleyan University, he worked a job as a streetcar gripman, of which he later wrote a book. Van Peebles had other jobs like painting, office work at the mail service, and stage work. He also journeyed to Europe and Mexico for a bit and was a member of the American Air Force. Van Peebles was a self-taught documentarian of the camera and was a regular father to four children Mario Van Peebles, Megan Van Peebles, Max Van Peebles, Marguerite Van Peebles.   

A visionary of the cinema world, mainly African American cinema, Van Peebles laid the foundation for others after his D-I-Y (do-it-yourself) approach to creating movies. Before in Hollywood, the do-it-yourself approach was not seen in filmmaking. Van Peebles was the first to do it. Van Peebles was also the writer and song composer of his visual interpretations and was the star of the visual interpretations. 

He was birthed in 1932 on August 21 in Chicago, a different time than the year 2021. Van Peebles died last Wednesday in Manhattan, New York, in his home at 89. Van Peebles was part of the foundation for the Blaxploitation era. According to Britannica, Blaxploitation movies were a “group of films made mainly in the early to mid-1970s that featured black actors in a transparent effort to appeal to black urban audiences.” Melvin Van Peebles created and starred in films that his African American audience can relate to, feel seen in, and be represented by actors and actresses who were not represented at that time. Van Peebles impacted a lot of African American actors and directors who came after him years later, and that is why I think Melvin Van Peebles should be remembered as a one-of-a-kind creator of art in Hollywood.