*Now playing in select theaters across the country is Stanley Nelson’s “The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution,” and as we previously reported, the doc is a riveting piece of history that explores in vivid detail the formation and impact of the original Black Panther Party. A must see for history enthusiasts.
In a two-part interview with one of the producers of the doc, 3-time Emmy award-winner Laurens Grant, along with original Panther members Mohammed Mubarak and Sherwin Forte, we delve deeper into the Party’s efforts and the events causing the subsequent split in the movement. Mubarak and Forte also open up on how they really feel about the so-called New Black Panthers.
The “Panthers” doc highlights the vital role that women played in the movement, and Mohammed confessed that many Panthers felt “Black women didn’t need to be liberated” because “they were already liberated,” through women’s lib and the efforts of Gloria Steinem and the Party’s own prevalent women such as Kathleen Cleaver.
Laurens: We had so many rough cuts when we were making the film, and a lot of the women got cut out just for time. I watched the film and came in the edit room and asked ‘Um excuse me, where are the women? Where did that go?’ That needs to be a little bit more involved and included.’ Although there were many women leaders, I think with the Black Panther party it was a different set-up. People got in it, the means were different but the end game was the same, They wanted to participate in a whole different way, as Elaine (Brown) articulates in the film. Sex roles were reverse. Everybody had to participate.
Sherwin: There are many unsung women in the movement. Women have always been a part of the movement, and sometimes they have moved ahead of men in this quest for justice and respect. I think that our task is to make sure that they are really pushed to the forefront more than they have been. The perceived attempt to put them in the background is ill-founded. Black women have always stood by Black men in this struggle.
The “Panthers” doc explores the breakdown in the relationship between Huey P. Newton and Eldridge Cleaver. Sherwin explained how the split in the Party was something Huey caused after his release from prison and he Eldridge began to have a differing of ideas. Huey compounded the problem when he called Eldridge “a punk” during a live television interview.
Sherwin: You didn’t get Eldridge condemning Huey, you got Huey condemning Eldridge. The moment Huey got out of jail, he wanted to send a detachment of men to North Korea to help them fight this country. Huey wanted to be a Che Guevara.
Mohammed: When Geronimo Pratt got arrested in Dallas, with that group of Panthers, the FBI arrested him and all of those guys. Huey expelled everybody in the group. He considered them counter-revolutionaries. He didn’t want to have anything to do with them. Eldridge stood up and said, ‘You can’t do these people like that! These are some real soldiers. Why are you doing this?’ As a result of that fallout, a lot of people got hurt. Some people got killed.
Sherwin: They purged a lot of the original members. I think it was a betrayal and I blame Huey for that. That’s what the split came from. I don’t know what happened to him in prison. People talk about this kind of CIA program. I can’t address that because I don’t know what happened to him while he was locked up, but I think that when he first got out, he was still sort of in his revolutionary mode, wanting to send people to North Vietnam. Somehow, while he was out, his mind began to change and he began a purge of all the original members that he had talked to about this revolution.
Check back for part two where Mohammed and Sherwin discuss Huey’s descent into “gangsterism,” and their view on the New Black Panthers.