'The Black Panthers: Vanguard Of The Revolution'
(DVD / NR / 2016 / PBS)
Overview: More than 40 years after the Black Panther Party was founded the group and its leadership remain powerful and enduring images in our popular imagination. 'The Black Panthers: Vanguard Of The Revolution' weaves together the voices of those who lived this story -- police informants journalists white supporters and detractors those who remained loyal to the party and those who left it.
DVD Verdict: 2016 marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Black Panther Party and this excellent new film from Stanley Nelson features firsthand accounts from participants including: Kathleen Cleaver, the first Communications Secretary of the Black Panther Party, Elaine Brown, former Black Panther Party chairman (1974-1977) Emory Douglas, the Black Panther Party's Minister of Culture and chief art director for the party's newspaper, amongst others.
'The Black Panthers: Vanguard Of The Revolution' traces the rise and fall of the Black Panther Party, one of the 20th century's most alluring and controversial organizations that captivated the world's attention for nearly 50 years. Along the way it offers a fascinating -- if somewhat rudimentary -- introduction to a movement, and an era, that remains soberingly relevant today.
Watching it it's obvious that Nelson understands the play of outsized personalities and unexpected events, and he's helped that enough time has passed for former Panthers to feel comfortable telling their stories, especially to someone of Nelson's stature in the documentary world. Sadly, the thing that struck me watching this was how little things have changed with white privilege and police killing blacks since this group started out as a self defense organization in Oakland, California in 1966.
Nelson's film mixes rare archival footage with penetrating interviews to explore the successes, failures, myths and realities of the Black Panthers, but that said, 'Vanguard of the Revolution' is at its strongest when it entertains female voices: Elaine Brown, Kathleen Cleaver, Ericka Huggins. Their fire is vigorously undimmed. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.