A Documentary on the Black Panthers Depicts Events That Are Still Happening Today (Video)

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Last year, a documentary film on the earliest days of the Black Panther Party hit select theatres across the country. Directed by Stanley Nelson, the celebrated filmmaker behind such powerful social examinations as Freedom Riders and The Murder of Emmett Till, The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution is an up close and personal look at how the Civil Rights Era (or lack thereof) and relations between African Americans and police led to the formulation of the foremost organization representing Black Power. At nearly two-hours long, it is an engrossing depiction of life for Black Americans in the 1960s that takes a particularly close look at Oakland, California and its role in cultivating the atmosphere in which the Black Panthers arose.

Featuring archival footage, interviews with Party members, a powerful soundtrack, and sobering reflections on what has and has not changed, the film is technically a retrospective – a story looking back at key historical moments in time – but in many ways it is also a study of today’s world. As the Black Lives Matter and similar movements continue to paint much of the discourse in contemporary American politics, it’s hard to ignore how painfully similar the struggles of today’s people of color sync up with those of generations past. Much of Vanguard reads like a script for a film made today, with its mentioning of police brutality, an unjust criminal justice system, and institutionalized forms of racism punctuating the lives of citizens. And, in light of the recent uptick in rhetoric about Black Panthers today stemming from Beyoncé’s controversial “Formation” video and Super Bowl performance, the decision of PBS to make this film available for streaming is helping to add an educational element to what is far too often a conversation steered by ignorance and fear.

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