What can you do when the system is biased against you? You can resist. Who is drawn to resistance? The young, the restless, those not yet powerful even by the standards of their own communities. What good does violent resistance do? Maybe not much directly, but it helps re-frame a debate in which otherwise the powerless are ignored. The Black Panther Party was a movement established to protect the interests of black Americans in the 1960s. On one hand, they were terrorists whose mandate was self-given; on the other, they really inspired the communities in which they were embedded, to whom the police were just the mightiest local mafia. They combined a message of self-help, pride, the demand for justice, protection and revolutionary fervour; at their worst, they advocated murder (and in return, members were literally murdered by the cops) and (near the end) raised money from drug dealing. Their charismatic leaders ultimately fell out with one another; their eloquent speeches remain compelling today. This documentary, featuring interviews with many surviving Panthers, is a bit one-sided; we don't hear from those within the community who did not approve (there surely must have been some), or (say) from the families of police officers hurt by Panther violence (only from those cops who still take pride in the violence they dealt out). But the sense of anger at the everyday injustice perpetrated on black Americans that drove the Panthers' formation is clear. Ultimately the Panthers had nowhere to go; their last significant act was in electoral politics, both admirable and yet strangely unambitious for an organisation that had been committed to the overthrow of the government of the United States. Of the Panthers' three most famous members, two are dead, one having become addicted to drugs and the other having become a Republican. But Bobby Seale still lives as a community activist in the Bay Area. And for all the problems, this documentary leaves one (mostly) impressed by what he tried to do.
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