Melvin Van Peebles
director, actor, writer
A pioneer in African American cinema, Van Peebles has directed, edited, and produced films and is also an actor and composer of music. His career was launched in Paris (1964–67), where he wrote novels and made his first feature film, The Story of a Three Day Pass (1967). Columbia hired him to direct Watermelon Man (1970), a humorous sendup of bigotry. His controversial work Sweet Sweetback's Baadassss Song (1971), which he financed independently, was followed by successful forays into musical theater and commodities trading. His son Mario Van Peebles is an actor and director; the two have collaborated in films such as Gang in Blue (1996).