29 Days Of Black History – Day 17: Panther

Release Date:   5/3/95
Genre:  Drama
Rating:  R
Director:  Mario Van Peebles
Studio(s):  Gramercy Pictures, MVP Films, Polygram Filmed Entertainment, Tribeca Productions, Working Title Films.
Running Time:  124 mins.

Cast:  Kadeem Hardison as Judge, Wesley Jonathan as Bobby Hutton. Bokeem Woodbine as Tyrone, Joe Don Baker as Brimmer, M. Emmet Walsh as Dorsett, Courtney B. Vance as Bobby Seale, Tyrin Turner as Cy, Marcus Chong as Huey P. Newton, Anthony Griffith as Eldridge Cleaver, Chris Rock as Yuck Mouth, Mario Van Peebles as Stokely Carmichael, Chris Tucker as Bodyguard, Bobby Brown as Rose, Angela Bassett as Betty Shabazz, Jenifer Lewis as Rita, Dick Gregory as Reverend Slocum, James LeGros as Bob Avakian, Kool Moe Dee as Jamaal, Roger Guenveur Smith as Pruitt, Richard Dysart as J. Edgar Hoover, Michael Wincott as Tynan, Melvin Van Peebles as Old Jail Bird.

Story:   The People called them Heroes. The FBI called them Public Enemy Number One.  This semi-fictionalized account of the origins of the Black Panthers is set in Oakland California during the late 1960s, a time of tension but also a time for change.  The Black Panther movement for Self Defense is formed in response to the harassment and violence being suffered by the black community at the hands of the police.  Judge, a Vietnam veteran, returns home to where the Black Panthers, led by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, have begun policing the police and monitoring their activities. Judge’s good friend Cy introduces him to Huey and the Black Panther credo which forever changes Judge’s life. Taken into Huey’s confidence, and pressured by the police to act as their informant, Judge raises the suspicions and animosity of fellow Panther Tyrone. The ensuing internal struggle is further exacerbated by the sudden overabundance of heroin available in the ghettos of Oakland, a solution tailored by the FBI in association with organized crime, to “neutralize” the black community and its leaders.

Details:  Panther is a fictionalized version of the rise and fall of a black radical movement that captured the imagination of its time, creating an armed, militant self-defense group that was an alternative to the nonviolent philosophy of Martin Luther King.  The group, which was active from 1966 until 1982, grew famous as the civil rights movement of the early 1960s was losing momentum after the assassination of King.  Their message was clear, White America could no longer count on pacifist blacks to patiently hold nonviolent marches.  News photos of Black Panthers, armed with rifles, patrolling the streets of Oakland or entering the California State Assembly, were among the key images of the time.

In the beginning the group’s core practice was its armed citizen’s patrols to challenge police brutality and they were involved in many fatal firefights with the police.  But the Panthers also instituted a variety of community social programs including Free Breakfast for Children and community health clinics for the education and treatment of diseases.  The Panthers began to feel the pressure of the FBI as its chief, J. Edgar Hoover, could not believe young blacks were capable of running such an organization, and described the party as the greatest threat to the internal security of the country.  He developed an extensive counterintelligence program designed to undermine Panther leadership, incriminate and assassinate party members, and to discredit, criminalize and drain the organization’s resources and manpower.  Soon the whole enterprise became deadly and dangerous.  The Party’s membership which had reached a peak in 1970 with offices in 68 cities and thousands of members began to dwindle throughout the 1970s and by 1980 had less than 30 members. Source(s): tcm.com; Rogerebert.com; Amazon; Google; Wikipedia; IMDB; Daarac.org.

Trailer: