Had the Black Panther Party (BPP) been only about community service to blacks in the United States, helping them secure food, shelter, education, jobs, and health care, perhaps they might've earned some bragging rights as a peaceful Samaritan-style organization. Except, it wasn't. It was built on violence, with its only goal to take whatever it wanted and overthrow America.
However, watching Stanley Nelson's Black Panthers: Vanguards of the Revolution, which had it's television debut on PBS this week, one would get the idea that the intentions of the radical Black Panther Party were mostly pure and that there were just a few bad apples that spoiled the bunch.
PBS's hope in showing the documentary was made clear during its promotion of this "significant" and "timely" film (just weeks after Beyonce's pro-Black Panther performance during the Super Bowl): "Their causes, with slogans like 'power to the people' and 'creating a better world' are relevant again in an era that has seen the rise of the 'Black Lives Matter' movement and tense relations between African-American communities and the police."
Sure, there are those in the BLM movement that demonstrate peacefully and have intentions of social change, but it's hard not to forget that the movement was built on violence at its core: burning cop cars, shops looted, and gun violence in retaliation -- just like its predecessor, the Panthers.
Here are a few quotables from the doc from members of the BPP that should help clarify what the movement was all about:
"We were making history and it wasn't nice and clean. It wasn't easy, it was complex."
"We're not going to get anything done doing these sit-ins and demonstrations. [We need] Violence, uprising, having a revolution. Let everybody bleed a little bit."
"Set us free, or there will be war!"
"There's going to be some barbecue [pigs=cops] if Huey's not set free!"
The party was built on a ten-point list of demands, intended for blacks only (described in-depth at Discover the Networks), which included full employment, decent housing, education, land, bread, freedom from prisons, exemptions from military service, and an end to capitalism to name a few. But the Panthers demanded even more as the film described:
- Carry loaded guns everywhere, citing the right under the Second Amendment (they stormed the capital in California with shotguns and rifles)
- Show up armed to keep the police in check during stops in their neighborhoods
- End white suppression by dismantling capitalistic system
- Paint America as the backbone of world oppression and gain international support (which they did via Algeria, North Korea, Africa)
And though the documentary touched on some of these violent foundations, softer language was the chosen method of delivery if mentioned at all. To that end, beating and raping women, as rampantly practiced within the group, was simply brushed off as male chauvinism. That's also why there was no mention of leader Eldridge Cleaver admitting:
'I became a rapist. To refine my technique and modus operandi, I started out by practicing on black girls in the ghetto -- in the black ghetto where dark and vicious deeds appear not as aberrations or deviations from the norm, but as part of the sufficiency of the Evil of the day -- and when I considered myself smooth enough, I crossed the tracks and sought out white prey. I did this consciously, deliberately, willfully, methodically -- though looking back I see that I was in a frantic, wild and completely abandoned frame of mind.
'Rape was an insurrectionary act. It delighted me that I was defying and trampling upon the white man's law, upon his system of values, and that I was defiling his women -- and this point, I believe, was the most satisfying to me because I was very resentful over the historical fact of how the white man has used the black woman. I felt I was getting revenge.
Instead, Nelson's film needed to stress how the movement was love-driven and all about community outreach, even going as far as quoting one member who said they weren't anti-white but hated all oppression of people. It is true that the BPP provided many meals for children in their communities and health check ups for the poor, but those events were also turned into voting registration opportunities for the Left and indoctrination into BPP beliefs.
Members of the Panthers admitted that new recruits were never vetted, so they never really had any idea who was coming into the fold. But as the documentary belabored, the party's violence was simply blamed on the FBI's meddling that successfully split them up through its Counter Intelligence Program by using former members as plants inside the organization.
But perhaps most glaringly missing from the film is the violent falling out between the two BPP leaders Huey Newton and Bobby Seale. As tensions grew within party leadership and the future of the movement seemed dim, Newton expelled Seale -- and did so by beating him senseless and sodomizing him so violently that his anus needed surgical repair. That's not a big selling point for a movement supposedly based on bringing about social change.
If anything, Newton and Seale, as well as the other leaders, were the heroes of the film -- visionaries, really and what dirt the film did dish on them only scratched the surface. It is clear that the timing of this film and its whitewashed message is only to serve as a foundation of support for the "Black Lives Matter" movement.
Here's what Nelson had to say recently about his film:
One of the geniuses of Beyonce is that if you caught it, you did, and if you didn’t, it didn’t matter. I think it touches a button because (the Panthers) are so misunderstood.
We had no idea that it would become so relevant, and tie to so many things that are going on. It’s pulled back the curtain. It’s made it so people are able to at least look at the Panthers, and approach the film with more of an open mind than they might have two years ago.
We’ve gotten very little kind of pushback, and I think it’s because the film lays it out there, warts and all. You see very clearly the mistakes the Panthers make, the nuttiness of the things said by certain Panthers. We thought the reaction would be much harsher from some people.
These were very young people who started out as a small group and said "We want to try to make change." Now, I want to be clear — the Panthers made a lot of mistakes. I’m not saying let’s go back to the Panthers. The Panthers are not a model, but they can be an inspiration.