2015 Film, Documentary, History

The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution


During the last Christmas holiday, my brother (43), my dad (63), and I (31) had a spirited (heated) discussion about race. I mention our ages because they, in addition to our individual personalities and experiences (which are largely shaped by our ages), have so much to do with our perspectives and comments. My mother, who I wished would join in, just sat there giving looks that said plenty. We discussed the racial problem in this country, and at one point I said, “People get tired of being mistreated, so we need to consider that long history of mistreatment while we are considering people’s actions.” While we agreed in some areas and disagreed in others, I think that my comment resonated. I cannot simply take current events into account when they are in retaliation against a long chain (I use that word deliberately) of abuse.

I thought of that conversation (which is one of many–I love family debates) after I finished watching the documentary The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution (Stanley Nelson – Freedom Riders, Freedom Summer, Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple, The Murder of Emmett Till) at RiverRun International Film Festival (It was my first film of the day). As I watched and learned about the party and the movement and its eventual split into factions and disarray, I saw African Americans’ reactions to continued abuse. I saw the intersection of race and gender. I saw people give their lives in the fight for equality that continues today. I saw human beings facing their human flaws. But the line in the film that affected me the most was a statement that, despite infighting, despite insurmountable struggles, the original, most important purpose of the party was motivated by a love of people. That love is what inspired them to do something for their people. That is what resonates with me the most because they did something, despite an entire nation that was against them. People get tired of mistreatment. We must take into account, to quote the Declaration of Independence, the “long train of abuses and usurpations” a group suffers (really take it into account) when we judge its actions and the decisions it makes. This reminds me of what Ruby says in Cold Mountain: “Every piece of this is man’s bullshit. They call this war a cloud over the land. But they made the weather and then they stand in the rain and say, ‘Shit, it’s raining!'” When will this country realize that it made the weather?