The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution – Film Review


The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution – Film Review by Pierce McDonough

Directed by Stanley Nelson Jr.

The recent images depicting police brutality towards civil rights protesters in Ferguson are disturbingly reminiscent of the archival images we see in ‘The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution’. The parallels we can draw between now and then are what make Stanley Nelson Jr’s documentary a timely release, ideal for the politically engaged in need of an introduction to the history of the controversial members of the African-American civil rights movement.

The movie opens with an animated parable prefacing the more traditional format of talking heads intercut with archival footage. This simple approach never feels stale thanks to the energetic soundtrack that propels the documentary at a rapid pace.

The group thought the Black Panthers was a suitable name because when the animal is attacked, it will retreat until it is cornered and then come out fighting for its life. This served as a metaphor for their response to racist oppression.

Initially gathering in Oakland, California in 1966, the Panthers monitored police for instances of brutality. Standing defiant, leather-clad and gun-wielding, the black revolutionaries formed an intimidating line-up, watching over officers as they arrested African-Americans and prepared to intervene in the case of any wrongdoing.

Nelson penetrates the myths surrounding the Panthers to reveal the diverse personalities within the group as well as the various divergent factions that made it up. The group’s charitable activities are emphasised, showing us they were more than just the militants they are frequently portrayed as. The activists prepared up to 20,000 free breakfasts for school children every week in Oakland.

On the less flattering side, women within the group had to fight internal as well as external oppression as they were routinely objectified by the male members. The inclusion of these internal conflicts mean that Nelson stops just short of simply celebrating the controversial group.


Categories: Header, Movie Review, Movies

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