Stanley Nelson’s intense feature length documentary came as the icing on the cake of the Montreal International Black film festival last Sunday at Concordia. Official Sundace selection The Black Panthers: vanguard of the revolution finally presents what lies behind the historical Black Panthers Party. A must-see for anyone willing to go back to the basics of the evolution of a new American culture.
Power to the people. 1966, Oakland: a panther is an animal that doesn’t fight back before responding to the enemy’s threat. This is where it all started. The symbolism of the struggle against segregation in the United States was born.
Ending police brutality is the initial fight of the Black Panthers. Five African-American men determined to intimidate as much as they are being intimidated take it a step further: to track down police assaults through the streets of Oakland, ready to intervene in any case of injustice. Wearing unloaded guns is permitted at the time by the California law as long as it’s not concealed. Huey Newton and Bobby Seale place themselves as the co-founders and leaders of the movement. Accused of the murder of a police officer, Huey is being defended by millions of citizens. “Free Huey” soon stands as one of the signs of anti-segregation throughout the country.
Nelson’s film is a powerful documentary enhanced by exclusive archive images and interviews of police staff and some of the first party members, such as Kathleen Cleaver. That alone! A thrilling chronicle on the outgrowth of the organization who changed the course of History on civils and Black people rights in the United States.
Black beauty is an ongoing and already existing term at the time. However, urban black beauty is conveyed by those who own style as a second nature. Dressed all in black, wrapped up with a beret, unshakeable, the Black Panthers don’t waste time on starting a fashion among black communities: the inner-spirit of revolution. One of the many, if not the most, interesting aspects of Nelson’s documentary is the non-idealistic portrayal of one of the most influential activism leading to a worldwide awareness on social equalities. Alternating between black and white images and colored interviews, the film dedicates itself to restore the catchy ingredient of storytelling into the aesthetics of a documentary.
The beginning of the 70’s witnesses the party dividing into two distinct groups: the era of the shared goal and ethics comes to an end with Cleaver and Newton’s final disagreement. From now on the survival of the Black Panthers becomes a matter of credibility. Yet in 1972 History has already taken action.
Nelson’s piece comes as a success for a first-ever documentary redrawing the expansion of the Black Panthers, from the Capitol invasion to the Los Angeles slaughter via the 21 Panthers case. A humble structure of this historical gem is giving way to the chronological demystification of a legend.
Montreal International Black Film Festival, Sept, 30th – Oct, 4th 2015
AWARD CEREMONY WINNERS:
Medium-length and short films: Le commencement, Loic Barché.
Feature length documentary: “3 ½ minutes, 10 bullets, Marc Sylver.
Narrative feature films: Imperial Dreams, Malik Vital.