The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution
By Dan Clendenin
This PBS documentary was released to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the founding of what was originally the “Black Panther Party for Self Defense” in Oakland. As the name implies, the BPP was founded to monitor police behavior in order to stop its brutality, although its later Ten Point platform was much broader and included housing, education, employment, incarceration, etc., along with its famous free medical clinics and food programs. Written, produced, and directed by Stanley Nelson, the film has no single narrator, but instead allows the participants in the movement, along with a few historians, to share their perspectives. The story revolves around the three charismatic leaders — Huey Newton, Bobby Seale, and Eldridge Cleaver, and the violent responses to the BPP by police and especially the federal government. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover once called the Panthers “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country,” and carried out extensive programs of infiltration, informants, surveillance, and even assassination. Whether mythologized by supporters or misunderstood by detractors, the BPP was one of the most important social movements in American history. I watched this film on the PBS website.
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