Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution is documentary film written and directed by Stanley Nelson Jr. that premiered in January 2015 at the Sundance film festival. The film received critical acclaim but also garnered some criticisms.
Some reviewers have remarked that Nelson did not give a full history of the Black Panthers and that he left out key factors such as the Panthers’ global interests, the reason they gained support among young whites and then lost it and the fact that economic repression played a part in their demise. Danny Haiphong from the Black Agenda Report stated:
In nearly two hours, Nelson displays a montage of interviews and video clips that effectively depict the Black Panther Party as a non-ideological, disorganized, and infantile group.
Bruce A. Dixon, managing editor of the Black Agenda Report, commented:
Vanguard of the Revolution is Liberal history, strips and omits Socialism from history of the Black Panther Party.
Both men are correct in that the film was not a comprehensive history of the Black Panther Party, but, then, it was not meant to be. In a December screening and discussion on the film Nelson explained the reason that he started the film with an animation that depicted the folk story, The Blind Men and the Elephant. He explained that he chose to do so as the opener because the moral of the story is that as Nelson says:
You can’t tell the whole story. You can only see the part that you can see. It’s too big a story and it comes from so many different angles- there’s no one Panther story, the Panther’s were different things at different times in different cities and different places. So we wanted to give that sense from the beginning.
I immediately got that sense from the film and to some degree appreciated it. I would have to agree with Nelson in that it is too big a story to say that any one production could possibly cover the expansive history of the Black Panthers. I have seen a number of documentaries about the Black Panthers and I expected Nelson’s to be like many of the others covering the same historical points and be more informative than special. However, that was not the case.
Nelson’s film had quick pacing to it and combined with the soundtrack it made the film contemporary and provocative. There is some rare footage and the interviews are insightful and transparent. Nelson’s focus in his telling of the Black Panther’s story is to show, not so much the politics of the panther, but the humanity. He explores the Panther’s breakfast program, the ways that the various leaders are coming together and strays away from the incidents that we usually see to explore incidents that the interviewees were able to speak directly to. I think Nelson’s film is a welcome addition to the catalogue of historical depictions regarding the Black Panthers.
I’m not sayin; I’m just sayin,
An Angry Black Man