The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution

Documentary Films

SIFF Says:

Opening with the famous parable of blind men describing an elephant, THE BLACK PANTHERS: VANGUARD OF THE REVOLUTION acknowledges up-front there is no neat and tidy way to summarize the legacy of arguably the most visible and controversial of ‘60s protest groups. The media-savvy image was deliberately, provocatively militant, but the programs that mattered offered free breakfasts for hungry children and medical clinics for the poor; when the end came at the literally murderous hands of cops and the FBI, violent internal schisms played their part as well. So were the Panthers dangerous poseurs or inspirational, committed revolutionaries? Employing a host of commentators, director Stanley Nelson rejects such easy judgments, managing to capture all the contradictions. From Eldridge Cleaver’s exile and Huey Newton’s isolation to Hoover’s paranoia, from the liberating exultation young members felt in the party’s embrace of black beauty and power (“we had swagger,” one interviewee proudly recalls, and indeed they did) to the bitter despair when their worst fears of the forces aligned against them were repeatedly, bloodily exceeded, the film emerges as the near-impossible—a definitive portrait of a story so large and complex you’d have thought it could never have one.

Stranger Says:

Originally produced for PBS, this impressively comprehensive film never really deviates from the standard historical template. (You could guess the majority of the song cues beforehand.) The combination of archival footage and modern day interviews is both fascinating and enraging, especially when delving into the tragic oratory genius of Fred Hampton. (ANDREW WRIGHT)

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Film Credits
Stanley Nelson
Kathleen Cleaver, Elaine Brown, Jamal Joseph
SIFF 2015