Mario Van Peebles

A biracial actor-director who set aside a degree in economics to pursue a career in entertainment, Mario Van Peebles was born in Mexico City on Jan. 15, 1957. His father, Melvin Van Peebles, was a notable director whose groundbreaking Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (1971) ushered in the blaxploitation era. His mother was a German actress.

Van Peebles's résumé is long and varied, boasting movie, television and music credits. But he is perhaps best known for New Jack City (1991), an inner-city crime thriller in which he also starred. At the time of its release, the film was the highest-grossing feature from an African-American director.

Van Peebles paid homage to his father with Baadasssss!, a quasi-documentary about the making of the elder Van Peebles's landmark film and the mountains he had to move to get it made. Baadasssss! garnered an Independent Spirit Award nod, among other honors.