The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution

Director Stanley Nelson has placed numerous documentaries on the PBS program American Experience, which would be a good outlet for this straightforward, liberal-minded history of the Black Panther Party. It offers the standard assessment that the party’s gun fetish was offset by its successful social programs (specifically the Oakland chapter’s preparation of some 20,000 free breakfasts for schoolchildren every week). Nelson has done a thorough job on the early years, talking to surviving party members and witnesses about the Oakland Panthers’ armed monitoring of the local police, the FBI’s covert campaign against the party, and the infamous 1969 police raid that killed Fred Hampton and Mark Clark in Chicago. He tapers off in the 70s, however, telescoping the violent feud between Huey Newton and Eldridge Cleaver and Newton’s subsequent reign of terror.