Film Review: Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution

By: Jessica Dunn

In early October I was lucky enough to attend a free screening of The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, directed by Stanley Nelson, as a part of the Binghamton Social Justice and Labor Film Series at the Bundy Museum. Clocking in at over 2 hours, it wasn’t a short film, but it was well worth the time commitment.

The film did an impressive job dispelling many of the myths of the Black Panther Party (BPP), and characterizing both its achievements and shortcomings. As a student of the BPP, I was impressed by the scope of the project as well as the amount of former Panthers the director was able to recruit. Some of the Party’s most famous figures, including Kathleen Cleaver, Elaine Brown, Emory Douglass, and Ericka Huggins all came together in an interview series that was the first of its kind. It was striking to hear the stories of so many former Panthers, from so many different chapters around the country. Though each of their stories was unique, they were united by one common thread: a commitment to radical political and social change. The film captured the spirit of the movement in a way that was as genuine as it was unexpected.

Of course, it would be impossible to tell the entire history of the BPP in two hours; it spanned years and thousands of miles. There were some notable absences including Bobby Seale, co-founder of the Party and the largest profile figure still alive. I also would have preferred a larger focus on gender dynamics within the Party. Overall, however, I think it offered a really fair and comprehensive picture of what the Black Panther Party was and what it was fighting for.

The film was also particularly well suited to this moment in time. The Panthers have a lot to offer us, whether we’re students, activists, or just concerned citizens. Their model of organizing is, in my opinion, one of the best examples to draw upon as we enter into a new age of radicalism spurred by the Black Lives Matter movement. The Panthers were indeed ideologically the vanguard of the revolution, but they were also strongly community oriented. Their platform involved a radical political and social revolution, but they had a plan to provide for the people “pending revolution”. These programs, dubbed “Survival Programs” attempted to meet the community’s most basic needs, from feeding children to providing free medical and legal services to free clothing and shoe drives. As a result, the community supported their local Panther chapters in return, sheltering them, helping to provide for them, and even protecting them from police violence. I think that’s the best lesson activists can take from the Party. Activists must support the community if they expect community support in return.

 

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