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Review: ‘The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution’

Huey P. Newton
Huey P. Newton

*One of the most powerful documentaries you should experience this year is Stanley Nelson’sThe Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution,” which explores the formation and impact of the Black Panther Party.

The doc is a visually arresting piece of history that weaves rare but riveting archival footage that includes accounts from people who experienced the movement, including former Black Panthers and loyalists, white supporters, police officials, FBI informants and journalists.

“The Black Panthers” recounts the movement’s energizing history which birthed a new counterculture in America. White youth became activists – championing alongside black revolutionaries who demanded equal rights and an end to police brutality.

Influencers, celebrities such as John Lennon and Jane Fonda and high-powered attorneys lent their names, voice and financial support to the movement, which aided in the Panther’s international push to raise awareness.

Black_Panthers_Doc2

An unfortunate misconception about the original Black Panthers is that the movement was anti-white, when in fact, as the doc explores in compelling detail, the Panther’s main mission and core practice was arming members to patrol the streets and monitor the behavior of racist cops and challenge systematic brutality.

Founders Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale drafted a Ten-Point Program which was a set of guidelines that described what the movement wanted from the United States government, which included; African history taught to black children in schools and proper housing fit for a human being. In the late 60’s, the Panther’s focus shifted to social programs. They instituted the Free Breakfast for Children Programs, and set-up community health clinics.

The doc reveals in frustrating details how, despite their non-violent core mission, Federal Bureau of Investigation Director J. Edgar Hoover viewed the party as the greatest threat to the country,  (primarily because he didn’t want blacks to be a unified, intelligent collective), and he supervised the devious COINTELPRO program which infiltrated, discredited and used any means necessary to eradicate the Panthers. The Panther’s reaction to government intrusion and surveillance was oftentimes handled with an eye for an eye approach.

“The Black Panthers” demonstrates how Huey and Fred Hampton, the charismatic party leader who was gunned down by police while he slept inside his Chicago apartment in 1969, were precisely the kind of brazen and politically savvy leaders that terrified Hoover. He entrusted local FBI and state officials to ensure these men would not rise up to “messiah” status and lead the frustrated black community in a revolutionary war aimed at dismantling the White Supremacy system of governing.

Eldridge Cleaver
Eldridge Cleaver

Founded in 1966 in Oakland, California, and personified by party co-founder Newton, “The Black Panthers” also sheds light on the fallout between Huey and partner member Eldridge Cleaver, who opened the only international chapter in Algeria.

After Huey was released from prison in 1970, he and Cleaver’s views on the future of the Black Panther Party shifted drastically, with Huey declaring his former colleague an enemy. The doc provides an enlightening account about what caused the split in the Black Panther Party, as well as Huey’s downward spiral into drugs, gangs and violence which ultimately led to his death.

Black_Panthers_Doc3

“The Black Panthers” has been crafted to leave viewers informed but outraged. It also succeeds at motivating you to spark a discussion about the historic and cultural relevance of the Panther’s efforts in our racially driven society today, where people of color continue to be harassed and brutalized by law officials.

“The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution” is currently playing in select theaters in New York and arrives at the Nuart Theater in Los Angeles September 25, where Stanley Nelson is scheduled to host a post-screening discussion. Click here for details and tickets.

For more information about the documentary, visit the website or Facebook. Twitter @panthersdoc

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