Melvin van Peebles
It’s safe to say that only one of Melvin van Peebles’ films is responsible for his status as a cult legend — but it’s also impossible to underestimate the impact of that movie. Released in 1971, Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song is the story of Sweetback (played by van Peebles), an African-American man who works in the whorehouse where he was raised as an orphan, and who must go on the run after the Los Angeles police try to frame him for murder. The story of a powerful and radicalized (not to mention sexually potent) black man escaping injustice struck a cord with audiences and almost singlehandedly created the blaxploitation genre.
Suggested viewing: Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, BAADASSSSS! (Melvin’s son Mario’s documentary about the making of Sweetback)