15 November 2016 | Goingbegging
Failing to convince the sceptical
This is a film to rally the faithful. But it needs more than that to justify the sub-title 'Vanguard of the Revolution', when we're looking at a movement that was fatally split in half through conflict between its leaders, in the style of most far-left groups, and which has effectively ceased to exist. "We were making history" enthuses one supporter. Hmm...
True, director Stanley J. Nelson Jr. has made quite a strong case that the split was skilfully and secretly provoked by the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover, who openly declared the Panthers to be a prime threat to national security. But there's nothing new about divide-and-rule, and a united party leadership ought to be proof against it.
One philosophical survivor of the movement sums it up well in an ironical post-mortem. "The strength of the Panthers was its ideals and its youthful enthusiasm. The weakness of the Panthers was its ideals and its youthful enthusiasm." At times, the movement can look like a dress-rehearsal for the Nation of Islam, with its solemn drill parades. At others, it just looks like hooligans on the rampage. Those seeking to be convinced by cogent and consistent argument are liable to come away disappointed. "I'm important enough to be arrested. I'm a real Panther now." says one of its senior officers, as though he was fourteen years old. And when Bobby Seale fails to be elected mayor of Oakland, the Panthers cry "He's going to be OUR mayor!"
Finally, you're better not looking too closely at Cleaver and Newton. Especially Cleaver, who went careering round in circles, and ended up as a right-wing Republican, voting for Reagan.