Melvin Van Peebles (born August 21, 1932 in Chicago, Illinois) is an American actor, director, screenwriter and composer, and the father of actor and director Mario Van Peebles.
Van Peebles also sacrificed his own job so other people of color could keep theirs, helping break some of the color barriers in the film trade unions.
Prior to entering Hollywood, Van Peebles directed the French film Story of a Three Day Pass (La Permission). His first Hollywood film was the 1970 comedy Watermelon Man, with writer Herman Raucher. The movie told the story of a casually racist but well meaning white man who wakes up black and finds himself alienated from his friends, family, and job.
Van Peebles followed this by writing and directing the independent feature Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song which is credited with starting the blaxploitation genre. His son Mario's 2004 film BAADASSSSS! tells the story behind his father's film. Since the success of Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, he has directed only a small number of other films.
Melvin Van Peebles speaks English, French and Dutch. He was educated at Ohio Wesleyan University.
Van Peebles was recently the subject of a documentary entitled How to Eat Your Watermelon in White Company (and Enjoy It) (2005).