Documentary, The Black Panthers: Vanguard of The Revolution

There’s talk and more talk about revolution these days, but it’s also in danger of being relegated to just another ‘fashionable buzzword’ used in a cynical ploy to establish a byline to disenfranchised ‘millennials’.

‘Buying’ into a counter-cultural narrative with no clear sense of purpose or clarity about whose interests and agendas are being pursued, can find those very same revolutionary movements steeped with contradictory voices and messages. The establishments that a revolution once sought to overcome, can end up becoming the very establishment who benefits the most. Today history seem’s to be repeating itself and the lessons from history are even more pertinent now then ever before.

The Black Panthers, were considered by the FBI as one of the most dangerous revolutionary movements and since have held a controversial place in the history as a ‘Black Power’ movement. Viewed as a radical organisation and outliers of the civil rights movement, the Panthers were calling out for better housing, better schools, full employment, police brutality and the rising mass-incarcertaion of black people in jails – sound dangerous?

Panthers on parade at Free Huey rally in Defermery Park (named by the Panther Bobby Hutton Park) in West Oakland. Oakland, July 28, 1968. Photo courtesy of Stephen Shames.

‘The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution’ is the first feature-length documentary to showcase the Black Panther Party, its significance to the broader American culture, its cultural and political awakening for black people, and the painful lessons wrought when a movement derails.

By the late 60’s, there was a emerging radical noise for change in America as disputes raged over equality and civil rights and the movement sought to tackle head-on the institutions through a revolution. The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense would, for a short time, put itself at the vanguard of that change. A new revolutionary culture was emerging and it sought to drastically transform the system.

Black Panthers from Sacramento, Free Huey Rally, Bobby Hutton Memorial Park in Oakland, CA, USA, 1969. Photo courtesy of Pirkle Jones and Ruth-Marion Baruch.

The impact of the movement was felt beyond the U.S and when James Brown sang ‘Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud’ some interpreted this as the sound of this new revolutionary spirit. The British take on this movement was *insightful to say the least, as Derek Johnson of the NME wrote “When the militant Black Power offshoot gains a foothold in pop music, that’s when it’s time to draw the line. I dislike this record intensely – it’s double-sided, and consists only of James Brown shouting out the aims of the Black Power movement, while the group chants the title phrase and over and over..Don’t get me wrong  – I think he has a valid case. But pop music is not the place in which to argue his case.” At the time, the NME followed up by claiming that it was because of James Browns perception as a ‘Black Power artist’ that he was unable to match his U.S success in the U.K – James Brown didn’t consider himself to be a leader in the movement.

Two decades later, Hip-Hop culture, flipped the script and with its emergence, broke through as a socio-political art form going on to become the most influential genre in popular culture today. Almost 4 decades, a post-Obama generation is facing an alarming lack of progress in civil rights, growing class disparity and inequality which has also seen the emergence of movements like ‘Black Live Matter’. A social media counter-narrative globally is on the rise while we’re facing an even larger state of polarisation with scathing messages propagated by personalities like Donald Trump who is playing to the insecurity of many white American males.

Documentarian Stanley Nelson attempts to go straight to the source in this film, weaving a treasure trove of rare archival footage with the voices of the people who were there: police, FBI informants, journalists, white supporters and detractors, and Black Panthers who remained loyal to the party and those who left it.

The British Black Panther movement, also had its own members and historic archives which have been preserved and presented by Photofusion Gallery in association with Organised Youth, creating a limited edition book with interviews and shots by Neil Kenlock, the official photographer of the British Black Panther Movement. Interviewees include Darcus Howe, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Danny Da Costa, Leila Howe, Neil Kenlock, Liz Obi, Kenrick Goppy and Farouk Dhondy, and all the transcripts of the interviews have been donated to a local public archive, so that the legacy of this project will be free and accessible for future generations.

Farrukh Dhondy previously a commissioning editor at Channel 4 and Black Panther member says of its impact in Britain, “What the Black Power movement did initially was to give people mostly the children of working immigrants, a place to belong, an identity and a feeling that we are a force; we are somebody, we are a dimension in the world, we’re not just somebody’s servants here”

U.K screenings of the documentary film ‘The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution’ will be taking place during October  2015 at the following cinemas and tickets are available now.

October 19 – Doc Days at Curzon Soho, London

October 23 – DocHouse, London

October 23 – Watershed, Bristol

October 23 – Chapter, Cardiff

October 23 – Broadway Cinema, Nottingham

October 30 –  Phoenix Cinema, London

October 30 – MAC, Birmingham

October 30 – Home, Manchester

October 30 – Showroom, Sheffield

* reference ‘There’s A Riot Going On’ by Peter Dogget