Tag Archive: black panthers


Stokely Carmichael. Assata Shakur. Angela Davis. Bobby Seale. Huey P. Newton.  For my generation, if you grew up around a certain dynamic those are all names you knew and heard about often, without living through the Experience.  “The Black Power Mixtape” is a well-edited documentary that casts an eye on what those times were like in the Movement and the connections that have resonated with the next generation.

Narrated in sections by artists Talib Kweli, Erykah Badu, and Questlove, “The Black Power Mixtape” is visually made up of archival news footage from Sweden(?!?), as a group of young journalists came to this country during that time to try to grasp what the Civil Rights Movement was all about.  At the time where this film begins, John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, and Medgar Evers had already been killed, and the assassinations of Dr. King and Robert Kennedy finished the job of wiping out the optimism of the country.  With Vietnam’s unpopularity on the rise, the climate was rise for a more radical approach.

(On a side note, I believe it was Questlove who conspiracy theoried that the reason King was killed when he was killed was because he was the first outspoken leader against Vietnam AND, as he was doing in Memphis, he was now marching less against race and moreso against class with the Poor People’s Campaign.  I’m paraphrasing but the quote was ‘You want to ride in the front of the bus, OK. You want to cause a fuss for the military and financial institutions?  Nah… Interesting to think about in light of the “Occupy…” movement that’s going now.  Maybe today’s movement is better off without a ‘leader’?  Back to topic…)

The Black Panthers are probably the best known group to emerge out of the 70s discontent.  When J. Edgar Hoover declared their Free Breakfast Program the greatest internal threat to national security (God I hope this is portrayed in the movie about to come out), the lines were clearly drawn.  The incarceration of Angela Davis covers the second act of the film.  The first ‘must see’ clip of the film is when a reporter goes to visit Professor Davis in prison to ask her about the situation. The poor guy was probably sincere in his naivete (being from another country), but Angela Davis’ incredulous response to someone not knowing the history of violence against Blacks in this country is highly entertaining/motivating.  I know without researching it that’s there no way in hell that interview played on American television at the time (if ever before now).

The second must see clip the film provides is of a babyfaced Louis Farrakhan.  Seriously I barely recognized him before he started talking.  Only a few years after Malcolm’s assassination, the young minister shows the ‘polish’ that would soon after reunite the factions in the Nation and begin his own ascent on a larger scale.  It’s another of those interviews that I guess I should have known existed somewhere; it’s interesting to see in the context of this film.

In a sad ‘full circle’, the film begins with the communal depression from the murders of every national leader, and the film ends with the seeds being planted for the drug epidemic that would cripple the black community in the 80s.  I’m a little surprised the film didn’t mention how Huey Newton himself was a casualty, but they probably didn’t have any footage of it.

“The Black Power Mixtape” is available On Demand on many cable outlets.

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Night Catches Us

 

This past weekend I went to the USC Homecoming game with a couple of the guys from school, and for a minute I couldn’t help but daydream about these days.  Part of getting older is remembering how idealistic you were and how real life changes your perspective on things.   I tell that anecdote because Night Catches Us gave me a similar feeling of ‘the good old days.’  This film along with Spike’s filming of A Huey P. Newton Story (which I saw a couple weeks ago, also good) are both great bookend stories about the end of the Black Panther Party.

Night Catches Us took me back not just because of the subject matter, but because of a what it is: an indie black film.  My generation realizes now how good we had it as an audience growing up; we used to have a few of these every summer, but now it seems like these days we get a film like this, maybe once every couple years.  Like the black films of the New Jack Swing era, this film is anchored by good performances by its leads.  Anthony Mackie plays the good brotha with a little bit of an edge, in this film an ex-Panther who comes back to his old Philly neighborhood to mixed feelings.  Kerry Washington brings her down to earth sexiness into the female lead as the sista who stayed behind and ‘may’ have feelings for Mackie’s character.  Jamie Hector plays the heavy, but trust me it’s not Marlo.  I don’t know what the brotha has planned career-wise, but I could easily see him having a Keith David like career.  (If you don’t know Keith David by name, trust me, you know him.  He’s been ‘That Brotha’ for over 20 years.)

Back to the film itself, the story of whether or not Anthony Mackie’s character is a snitch (which I won’t ruin) provides enough drama to keep this hour and a half film going.  The local Panther leader was killed by the cops, Mackie left town right after the murder.  When one of the locals sneers at him, “What did you do?”, Mackie’s response “I survived.”  Man, that continues to be the story of intra-race relations in my humble opinion.  But we’re just here to talk movies today people!

Long story short, if you have an interest in indie films, or black cinema, or the Black Panthers, I think this is a film you should see.  I found it on my On-Demand in my cable box; I believe it’s also on ITunes, and it’s playing on the big screen in select cities (LA, New York and probably Philly or Oakland) starting the first week of December.

Until next time…

 

sweet-sweetback-baadasssss

The film that literally starts the discussion of modern black filmmaking, Sweet Sweetback on its most basic level is the story of one brotha on the run from the police.  If you know anything about black folks, our history, and our paranoia, you can easily insert the statement/joke, “Well, that’s a movie!” and be done with it right there.  But I’ll go a little deeper.  On to the tale of the tape…

Relevance:  It was the late 60s/early 70s.  JFK and RFK had been shot down, Dr. King had been shot down, Malcolm had been shot down.  The era of liberal optimism had come to a violent end.  Out of this climate came Melvin Van Peebles, who did some work here and there, but had a desire to do this story that spoke to the ‘brothas on the street.’  Needless to say, funding (or anything else) didn’t come falling out of the sky for this one.  So piece by piece he put it together (with a little help on the back end from young Bill Cosby) and this film was born.  When it opened it was given a well deserved X rating and barely screened.  But when it found its audience it found it.  Hollywood caught wind of the idea that ‘Hey, we can make dirt cheap movies for black audiences and easily make a profit” and the blaxploitation era was officially born.  I’m not going to get on my soapbox other than to say that lesson about making cheap films for black audiences has been remembered and forgotten at least three times in my very short lifetime.  Such is the Business (and life).  Moving on…

Legacy:  There’s the whole creating a 70s subgenre thing, but the best legacy for this movie was the film Badass!, written and directed by Melvin’s son Mario.  More than a tribute really, the film (which doesn’t hide the fact that Melvin stuck his young son in one of the original film’s most notorious sex scenes) is very solid in its own regard, and gives a great insight on how insane it was to get this film made (and the struggle of getting any independent film made truth be told).  Worthwhile viewing even if you’ve never seen the original.

Craft:  Sweet Sweetback is not in any sense of the word a ‘traditional’ film, so know that going in if you’re going to check it out for the first time.  I’ll award the points for this category to the group that did the soundtrack for the film.  A little outfit known as Earth, Wind and Fire.  Perhaps you’ve heard of them?

Crossover:  Business wise absolutely.  Hollywood took notice and Shaft, Superfly, Foxy Brown, Dolemite and countless others took their turns portraying the ‘Black Superman/Superwoman/Anti-Hero’.  But cross over audience wise?  Ehh…  Put it like this: this was said to be Huey P. Newton’s favorite film, so much so that it was required viewing for the Black Panther Party.  So yeah…

Apollo:  Absolutely; like I said, it earned its X rating.  A question I’ve often been asked over the years is ‘How do you simulate some of the more graphic sex scenes’ that you see in movie X or Y?  Well, it’s been said that there wasn’t any ‘simulation’ in this movie.  And um, guess how the title character earned his name?  Yup…

The film countdown continues next month with probably the most quotable black film of all time…