The Black Power and Black Panthers movement of the late sixties and early seventies has been something that I have been fascinated by for some time. It involved the radicalization of a violently oppressed group, eloquent speakers and advocates, media manipulation and the FBI in such a way as to not be seen before in the United States. The Black Power movement emerged as a direct result of the boycotts and the Civil Rights Movement headed by Martin Luther King Jr. Many black people thought that although King was doing good things, not enough things were getting done. There was violent racism still going on in the jobs sector, the education sector, the crime sector and the general life sector. These people had enough, they were going to arm themselves, they were going to start businesses and education programs that will help their people and they were going to make these projects public. As a result J. Edgar Hoover (who by this time should have been committed to a mental institution many times over) named the Black Panthers the number one threat in America. The government systematically took down all of its leaders either by assassination or by wrongful imprisonment. The media painted these radicals as extremists and threats to “normal” society. And then there were the drugs…
What we as americans sometimes forget is that we do not live in a completely isolated country. What we do has repercussions and makes headlines in other countries. They see our monumental fuck ups and mistreatment of citizens with the perspective of someone on the outside looking in. This can be advantageous when trying to paint a picture of a time period. This is what this film does.
Several journalists go to America and try to get some perspective on this Black Power movement that seems to be dominating American headlines. They gain incredible access to the inner workings of the movement and get interviews that American journalists could not or would not get. One interview involves Stokey Carmichael talking to his mother on how why they were so poor when he was younger. Another interview involves Angela Y. Davis talking to a Swedish journalist while she was imprisoned. This interview was one of the most moving in the whole film. Angela talks about why she is apart of this cause, why she has to stand up for herself and why she is so angry. Her face behind her massive fro (and awesome fro btw) betrays her fright, but her voice and her words give an air of authority in what is right.
While the footage is playing, many prominent African-Americans today talk about how the Black Panthers influence their work in their advocacy and how dangerous even today it can be when you admit your ideals. One rapper relates a story that is scary. He was listening to Stokey Carmichael’s speeches in preparation for an album right after 9/11. He was boarding a Southwest flight and four suited men approach him and take him to an interrogation room. They wanted to know why he was listening to Carmichael’s speeches. They suspected him of terrorism. These speeches were at the time forty years old and they were still scared of the Black Panthers message of controlled violence against the oppressors. It is fascinating and infuriating to say the least.
It is hard to say how anyone who doesn’t know much about the Black Panthers would respond to this film. For me however it was a fascinating portrait of a movement that holds a special place in my heart. I would suggest before watching this film to read a few articles on Stokey, Angela, and the Free Breakfast Movement. You won’t be disappointed.