Black Panthers documentary to uncover group’s fallacies and facts

Photo credit: 'The Black Panthers: Vanguard of The Revolution' film artwork
Photo credit: ‘The Black Panthers: Vanguard of The Revolution’ film artwork

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Black Panther Party’s establishment, Independent Lens on PBS is airing a documentary that will delve into the ins and outs of the Panthers’ era. Stanley Nelson’s The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution was first released in September of 2015, but now, thanks to the significant milestone and Beyonce’s recent Super Bowl halftime show paying homage to the militant group, the film will likely reach an even broader audience than before.

The acclaimed feature-length documentary will uncover the organization’s initial aims for the Black community, their accomplishments, how the group was torn apart, and why the Panthers remain a significant part of American history. Nelson gathers rare footage of those who witnessed the movement, including FBI informants, supporters, journalists, critics, and former Panthers who were loyal to the organization until the end, as well as those who departed before it went under.

“This aggressive stance among African Americans; nobody had ever seen anything like that. It’s hard to understand that if you weren’t around back then,” Nelson told Mother Jones of the Panthers. “You can’t imagine hip-hop without the Black Panthers. Today, hopefully, the movement can be an inspiration to people. These were people who made mistakes but they were trying to change things.”

Nelson says that the film will clear up common misconceptions about the Panthers, such as the idea that they hated White people.

“People don’t understand that the Panthers had allies across the anti-war movement, the student movement, the women’s movement,” he said. “People also don’t understand how young the Panthers were — basically teenagers. And that they were over 50 percent women. You’d like to have a picture of the Black man with his arms crossed holding a gun, but women have such a huge role in the party. The film is really about 1966 through 1973. After that, the Panthers went through this long, slow decline. There’s this latching on to what happened near the end and not enough emphasis on what happened in their heyday.”

The film features notable names such as Kathleen Cleaver and Jamal Joseph, along will several others.

The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution airs on Independent Lens Tuesday, Feb. 16 at 9 p.m. EST on PBS.

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