Panther Review

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A dramatized account of the story of The Black Panther Party of Self-Defense.


Panther could easily be a sequel to Malcolm X, centring its story on the founders of the Black Panther Party For Self-Defence. Melvin Van Peebles, a pioneering black filmmaker and an original Panther, adapts his own semi-historical novel into a screenplay. Sadly, Melvin turned over the direction to his inconsistent son Mario who does his best to render this fascinating material incoherent.

Set mainly in the Panther home turf of Oakland, a suburb of San Francisco, the film includes Huet Newton (Marcus Chong), Bobby Seale (Courtney B. Vance) and Eldridge Cleaver (Anthony Griffith) and sketches in their achievements, persecutions and arguments. But the upfront story is about dull, made-up people, mainly Judge (Hardison), a Vietnam vet pressured by a mean cop (Baker) into being an informant and who winds up fighting a conspiracy between the Mob and the FBI.

Mario (who cameos as Stokley Carmichael) directs action sequences as if they were collages of people shooting at random, but the film's oddest failing is that its white baddies (M. Emmett Walsh, James Russo and especially Baker) are more interesting than its cool black goodies. Even more compromised by paranoia than the average Oliver Stone movie, this mythologises Panthers at the expense of not only hate figures such as J. Edgar Hoover and Ronald Reagan but also of the other contemporary radical factions, both black and white.

Even more disturbing than the wayward mythologising of the script, perhaps, is the uncritical acceptance of the Panthers' idea that the best thing any American radical group could do, as advertised in the US constitution, is stockpile big guns.