Kickstart the Theatrical Release of the First Comprehensive Black Panther Party Documentary

I grew up with a sim­plis­tic, mor­al­iz­ing offi­cial his­to­ry of the Civ­il Rights move­ment, one full of plat­i­tudes and false dichotomies: a san­i­tized ver­sion of Mar­tin Luther King, Jr. stood as the mod­el of a “good” Civ­il Rights leader; Mal­colm X, the Black Pan­thers, and oth­er rad­i­cals were vil­i­fied as “bad” Civ­il Rights leaders—or Anti-Amer­i­can ter­ror­ists. We read “Let­ter From a Birm­ing­ham Jail,” but noth­ing from Angela Davis, Huey New­ton, Eldridge Cleaver, or Stoke­ly Carmichael. This is how most his­to­ries go, offi­cial nar­ra­tives being what they are. There are heroes and vil­lains, and lit­tle in-between. How­ev­er, there is much more ambi­gu­i­ty sur­round­ing events than most of us choose to accept. I came to see things much dif­fer­ent­ly regard­ing the Black Pan­ther Par­ty, though not in a way that makes me feel like trad­ing insults with strangers on the inter­net. I reserve the right to make up my own mind. You must also make up yours.

But one must be informed. Which is why projects like The Black Pan­thers: Van­guard of the Rev­o­lu­tion—whose Kick­starter cam­paign video you can see above—are so impor­tant. It weighs heav­i­ly to be writ­ing this now, as tragedies all too famil­iar to the fig­ures in the film still play out tonight and near­ly every night across the U.S. We owe it to our­selves to know the his­to­ries of the cur­rent strug­gle, both offi­cial and unof­fi­cial. I over­heard some­one say recent­ly that get­ting a gen­uine edu­ca­tion requires tak­ing “two sets of notes.” For those raised with a one-dimen­sion­al text­book his­to­ry of the Civ­il Rights move­ment, The Black Pan­thers: Van­guard of the Rev­o­lu­tion is like anoth­er set of notes, along with oth­er films like Goran Olsson’s The Black Pow­er Mix­tape: 1967–1975, Lee Lew-Lee’s All Pow­er to the Peo­ple! The Black Pan­ther Par­ty and Beyond, and Mario and Melvin Van Pee­bles’ fic­tion­al­ized his­to­ry Pan­ther.

These films pro­vide inter­est­ing and excel­lent intro­duc­tions to the sub­ject, but Stan­ley Nel­son’s doc­u­men­tary offers, as he puts it, “the first com­pre­hen­sive look at the rise and fall of the Black Pan­ther Par­ty.” Nel­son is an award-win­ning vet­er­an doc­u­men­tar­i­an whose films include Free­dom Rid­ers, Free­dom Sum­mer, Jon­estown: The Life and Death of People’s Tem­ple, and The Mur­der of Emmett Till. He began The Black Pan­thers sev­en years ago, and its cur­rent release, audi­ences have told him, “could not have come at a bet­ter time.” The film has already pre­miered for “a select audi­ence” at Sun­dance, New York’s Muse­um of Mod­ern Art, and L.A.‘s Pan African Film Fes­ti­val. With eight days to go, the Kick­starter to fund the doc’s mul­ti-city the­atri­cal release has almost reached its goal of $50,000. See their page to help them get all the way there.

Then con­sid­er read­ing, and re-read­ing, “Let­ter From a Birm­ing­ham Jail.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Wattstax Doc­u­ments the “Black Wood­stock” Con­cert Held 7 Years After the Watts Riots (1973)

Read Mar­tin Luther King and The Mont­gomery Sto­ry: The Influ­en­tial 1957 Civ­il Rights Com­ic Book

Watch The March, the Mas­ter­ful, Dig­i­tal­ly Restored Doc­u­men­tary on The Great March on Wash­ing­ton

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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