Film Review: “The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution”

Vanguard of the Revolution

By Tim Hayes

I've actually gotten dozens of requests for my opinion of this film, and I wanted to wait until I got to see the film with an audience and see the whole film at once rather than the many excerpts that I had seen. I want to be fair in what I say, because who knows if anyone will ever have the resources and the good intentions to do this good a job of chronicling such an important part of recent American History again. 

In one of the first scenes in the film, former Black Panther Erica Huggins states that for every surviving member of the Black Panther Party you could get a different version of the Black Panther Party. In my Black Panther Party we held literacy classes for a lot of the sisters and brothers who walked in off the street to join. The reason for this is that we asked most of them to do a LOT of reading. Franz Fanon, Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, Carlos Marighella, Nietzsche, Malcolm X, Kwame Nkruma. . . and much more. I came to the BPP as a Morehouse College student and had turned down at that time a scholarship to both Yale and Harvard. I dropped out of school because I was asked. The party needed people to not only help get some of this stuff across to the "brothers and sisters off the black" as we called them, but to make sure that as many chapters as possible were getting this work done. That Black Panther Party was not in the film. The Black Panther Party in the film only showed a Panther holding a book once.


I have to give the film credit, though, for telling the true story that the majority of Black Panther Party members were women. . . and that photographers LOVED the Black Panthers, which is why there are so many images that survive of swaggering young black men in black leather jackets. We spent a hell of a lot more time working than swaggering. . . and women not only did most of that work but controlled it. So the film got that part right.

In my Black Panther Party, some of us traveled to North Korea, Viet Nam, Lebanon , Israel, China, Cuba, Sweden, Angola, and more, both spreading a message and absorbing information and values of revolutionary movements around the world. That Black Panther Party was NOT in the film.

In my Black Panther Party, Huey Newton was one of the most articulate, intelligent , well-read human beings I ever met, even up until this day. The film spent much of the last one third of the film on the "post-Panther" Huey, ravaged by demons and suffering from a type of PTSD from his horrible treatment in prisons and that drug-crazy period almost 10 years after the demise of the BPP that ended in his death -- and almost no time on the brilliant young man who formed this organization from nothing and scared the forces that be to death. Or the Huey P. Newton who on charisma and guts alone could inspire the loyalty of such a diverse group of black people and get us to literally put our lives on the line everyday.

 My comrade Elaine Brown covers these points very eloquently in her own review of the film. You can read that here. 

I agree for the most part with what Ms. Brown writes. But I have to say, for a lot of people up until now the only film of the Panthers they had ever seen was the ghastly bullshit film "Panther" by Mario Van Peebles, which showed a cartoonish, simple-minded version of the party and actually tried to connect us to some conspiracy theory nonsense. As an improvement over that, this could be called an acceptable film -- but far from definitive.


Tim Hayes is a veteran of SCLC and SNCC, a former organizer for the Black Panther Party, and a musician in the band “Philly Gumbo.” He lives in Philadelphia. 

This post was originally published on the blog “Tim Hayes’ Tales of Post-Racial America”: 

Individually signed posts do not necessarily reflect the views of DSA as an organization or its leadership. Democratic Left blog post submission guidelines can be found here.

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