Film Review: The Black Panthers and a Brief History of Violence

In Uncategorized on November 10, 2015 at 21:24

‘The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution’ is an informative, high quality movie that explores an important era and movement in U.S. history.

.black panther

Ever since the first slaves were captured in Africa for transport overseas to North America, there has been a history of violence against Black men and women on this continent. The brutality of slavery remained after the institution was banned in 1865. Records show that from 1882-1968, 3,446 Blacks were lynched. That’s slightly over 40 a year. The lynchings were concentrated in the South, with some states having no lynchings of Blacks at all. After 1935, lynching subsided to near zero. (ibid) Remember, these are lynchings that were reported. Who knows how many more hundreds of unreported lynchings occurred.


There were thousands of other murders of African Americans after the Civil War; White’s didn’t give up their dominance quietly. As lynchings subsided, race riots against entire Black communities increased. Thousands, mainly Blacks, were killed during these riots that were instigated by White mobs. The summer of 1919 is know as “Red Summer” for the large number of race riots. More than 100 people were killed and thousands were left homeless in over 26 riots across the country that year. (ibid)

There were many causes of these riots. In all but a few cases, Whites instigated them. They occurred during times of economic depression and dislocation, when Whites felt the most threatened by the Black minority. Often, they occurred after trumped up racial charges were made against a Black person. Police also helped instigate these riots. And the riots almost always occurred in the Black majority communities. (ibid)

Slavery, lynching, and races riots are major parts of the history of violence against Blacks in the United States. Is there any wonder that during the Civil Rights Movement there would be communities organizing around Black self-defense?

white riot

Documentaries are as close to a guarantee of good cinema today as we get today, and The Black Panthers proves that dictum once again. There are a several reasons for this. First, the characters don’t have to act or learn their lines; the lines are already spoken. Also, if a director chooses to take on the topic, it is likely that the plot (story) is compelling with some surprises in it. There are fewer filters documentaries have to pass through to get produced such as test screenings and studio executives demanding that the film comes in under budget or that the filmmakers hire multi-million dollar stars and insist on fabulous special effects. Documentaries like The Black Panthers face no such obstacles and the story is already written. The art is in the telling.

Murder Panther

The full title of the film shows us the communist leanings of the group: The Black Panthers: Vanguard of a Revolution. Vanguard is the term used by communists to describe the organized leadership of a revolution. Yes, that is how highly the Panthers thought of themselves; they called themselves the ‘Vanguard of a Revolution.’ After seeing the film, it is hard to dispute this depiction.

The main characters were members and leaders of the Black Panther Party, including Huey Newton, Bobby Seale, Eldridge Clever, with an important supporting role played by Fred Hampton. Hampton was pivotal because as a focal point, the “vanguard of the vanguard”, he scared FBI director Hoover as a potential “black messiah.” Hampton, more than any other Panther, is portrayed as the man who could unify not only blacks but poor people of all races. Suffice to say, the film documents his rise, his charisma, his power and his life in his brief time on screen.

Hoover targeted activists of all kinds with the FBI’s counter intelligence program (COINTELPRO). However, over 80% of their actions targeted the Panthers. Suffice to say, the rise of Black power frightened the White establishment and much of the movie is about the quick rise of the Panther Party and how police and the FBI targeted them with surveillance, arrests, murder, raids and other tactics.

The film suggests that the reasons for the Panther Party being targeted was their power and their consciousness raising of the populous. Moreover, the film suggests that the rhetoric of the party around self defense and ‘killing pigs’ made them a target more than they already were. The police used this rhetoric to get people to support illegal police raids and violent actions against the Panthers.

PBS is one of the major funders of the film. After the movie was well received by at the Sun Dance Film Festival, PBS Distribution decided to release it in movie theaters this fall. That was a great decision. It is timely and historic as are many of the best documentaries.

Blacks with Guns

The current issues around Black Lives Matter and the Black men and women being killed with impunity in this nation is a repeat of the murder of Blacks in the Panther Party five decades earlier. The issue of gun rights is an important backdrop of the movie when the Panthers insisted on using the open carry laws of California at the time to bring their guns to arrests of Black drivers and eventually into the capital building in Sacramento, CA. They were there to protest a bill that would end open carry in the state. This was clearly not what the NRA had in mind; Blacks using the gun rights the Association touted.

The Panther Party was not just about self defense for African Americans or Black Power, the Party wanted to “dismantle capitalism.” Their 10 point party platform states, “We Want An End To The Robbery By The Capitalists Of Our Black Community.” Moreover, it proclaims, “We Want Land, Bread, Housing, Education, Clothing, Justice And Peace.” The Party did not call itself Marxist or Maoist, but it called for an end to capitalist exploitation, especially of African Americans.

The archival footage of the movement and party is well used, dramatic and informative. The footage not only documents the history, it documents the characters’ relative positions in the movement. The use of photos and interviews to show us the political and cultural context in which the panthers emerged as a movement is brilliant. The film is more than a history lesson, it is a lesson about race and power.

And if you think the film is an homage to the Party, think again. Not only were there several interviews with police, government agents and others critical of the Panthers in the film, the film itself questions some of the Party’s tactics. It shows the inner conflicts, the split between the Cleaver and Newton factions, the failures of some parts of its program as a movement and its successes. In fact, the trajectory of the Black Panthers as a movement is very much like that of other social movements of the 60s and 70s, whether it was civil rights, peace, free speech or other movements that challenged and were fought by the power of the state.

Certainly, in the end, the film puts the overall goals of the Panthers in a good light, even while questioning some of its actions. The film hints at the sexism within the movement in the film, having women do the cooking and cleaning, i.e. ‘women’s work’ and the men carrying the guns. It could have done more of that for my taste. There was also the suggestion that some of the Panthers were commodifying the revolution, making cash off the movement. Some even questioned the Party’s successful food program: “Is free food enough.”

BLM March

Rating: Pay Full Price

The ending lags and gets a bit overly sentimental. That is a minor flaw. I like the film a lot, but there is no need to see it more than once. What I plan to do is read more about the history of the movement and the characters from the film.

Here’s a place to start.

Tex Shelters

Beyond Evil

In Education, History, Philosophy on April 26, 2012 at 17:26

picasso Guernica from http://www.abcgallery.com

Evil, like race, is a social construct that does not exist in the natural world. Justice Potter Stewart of the Supreme Court said in 1964 about obscenity that he can’t define it, but he knows it when he sees it. That is true for many people when they are asked to define evil. They don’t know what it is exactly, but they know it when they see it.

Evil is a self-defining term, “The evil man inflicts injury on himself; he would not do so, however, if he knew that evil is evil.” from Beyond Good and Evil by Frederich Nietzsche (section 190).   Ah, the tautological pleasures of evil. Evil exists by the very existence of the word evil.

The term evil is used to bring down those that stand out from the herd, “The lofty independent spirituality, the will to stand alone, and even the cogent reason, are felt to be dangers, everything that elevates the individual above the herd, and is a source of fear to the neighbour, is henceforth called EVIL…” (Ibid: section 201).

During humanity’s history, those that stand apart, Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, (the church hated astronomers), Darwin, Marx, union members, atheists, homosexuals and other outliers have been labeled “evil”. Being labeled evil can justify your murder. Thus, jihadists can kill Americans, for they are part of the “evil empire”, the U.S. can kill Muslims who belong to the “axis of evil”, people can kill doctors for they are evil, and so forth. Evil is a label preserved for those that disagree with convention, the powerful or are different. In modern times, evil is a term frequently exploited by dogmatists and ideologues.

“Against such a “possibility,” against such a “should be,” however, this morality defends itself with all its strength, it says obstinately and inexorably “I am morality itself and nothing else is morality!”” (Ibid: section 202)  Thus, we can see the use of the term evil as a way to validate a particular religion or morality. Evil is what one should not do, and thus those who act opposed to these evil actions are moral. So, if homosexuality is evil, those that are married to the opposite sex are moral.

As the web page for the Christian group New Advent states, “Thus evil, from the point of view of human welfare, is what ought not to exist.”  If they are evil, they shouldn’t exist, so we are justified in killing them. So people who think others are evil and “ought not to exist” can call for their murder, as Ted Nugent recently did when speaking about President Obama.

The subjective nature of the term evil makes it useless, a word with no concrete meaning. As the Christian Heretic site says, “The problem is, there is actually no such thing as evil because “evil” is really nothing more than an English word we use to label an action or experience which we perceive in a negative way.”  In fact, the belief in evil is a superstition akin to belief in God, astrology or the Loch Ness Monster.

Nietzsche turns this back on the accusers, “According to slave-morality, therefore, the “evil” man arouses fear; according to master-morality, it is precisely the “good” man who arouses fear and seeks to arouse it, while the bad man is regarded as the despicable being.” (Nietzsche: section 260) The supposed “good” and “moral” use fear of others to manipulate us.  By defining our morality for us, religious and political leaders control us through fear, and thus they continue to gain the most from the labor and resources of this nation. While we are out fighting the evil in each other, plutocrats are writing new legislation to take away our rights, jail us and further rig the economy for themselves at the expense of the people.

The Church and mid-evil theocracies used God and fear to control the masses, and the state learned this technique and uses it today. If the U.S. had been less “moral” and less religious, and instead been more rational and scientific, we wouldn’t have been so easily manipulated to go to war with Iraq after Bush’s “axis of evil” speech. If we understood that the term “evil” was being used to get us to attack unsuspecting humans thousands of miles away (who had nothing to do with 9/11) and that the term meant nothing, we may have thought twice about accepting the war with Iraq.

Thus, the “good” person harms society by labeling those he fears as “evil”, and in doing so, they promote the very thing they rail against: anger, hatred, judgement and violence.

If I ask you to show me evil, you can’t. You would show me a picture of Charles Manson, or Pol Pot, or some other person most people consider evil. But it is not that they are evil in and of themselves, they are only “evil” because of their actions. So why not just call them “mass murderers” or “genocidal maniacs” and leave it at that? Evil is an adjective that lacks meaning separate from actions. Evil is a shorthand for so many possible actions that it has no meaning.

That “Evil” can be used to describe something unpleasant is not evidence that evil exists as a universal constant, nor the base for an argument for moral absolutes.” Herodotus 

The term evil allows us to avoid disturbing questions regarding the development of men like Stalin and Hitler by stating, “They are just evil”. In the book, For Your Own Good, noted German psychiatrist and author Alice Miller argues that it was the strict child rearing practices in early 1900s Germany that produced not only a compliant populous ready to obey a dictator after WWI, but these practices also created tyrants like Hitler that would recreate the oppressive experiences of childhood for the Germans. If Hitler had been born elsewhere at a different time, he certainly would not have become evil.

“It is too simple to blame evil people for horrifying acts of terror,” says psychologist and science historian Michael Shermer. “In a scientific worldview, however, there is no such thing as good and evil as supernatural forces operating outside the realm of the known laws of nature and of human behaviour.”

Americans are particularly succeptable to the term evil and react to it without asking why something is evil or if it is evil at all. Evil is a catchall phrase and whenever someone calls a person, issue, policy, or anything evil, you should question this persons logic and argument. Better yet, turn the page and read something else.

Tex Shelters

Tex Shelters Endorses Money for President

In Current Events, Election Politics on April 22, 2012 at 20:27

fist full of hundreds from farm4.static.flickr.com

I am tired of losing elections by voting my conscience. Last time, I supported Huckabee for his moral fortitude standing up against gay sex by comparing it to pedophilia and bestiality. Standing up for God is why the liberal media hated him so much. During this campaign season, I supported Bachmann for being courageous enough to stand against her own raped gender on abortion issues. But no more. I am going to vote for the money.

About 90% of campaigns with the most money win congressional seats, so why not vote for the richest campaign? Also, the media will be reporting incessantly about campaign money, so why fight it? Who needs policy anyway, and who can trust what a politician says? Money doesn’t lie.

Money should be the determining factor in who runs this nation. First, Congress will have to know how to work with their masters: the Kochs, Big Pharma, Monsanto, GE and the war industry, among others, to keep this nation running smoothly for them. Moreover, by requiring candidates to have millions of dollars to get media attention for their campaigns, you can ensure that power will be held at the top of the economic rung and not trickle down to the people who don’t deserve nor know what to do with this power.

This paragraph from a New York Times article called “How Much Does It Cost to Run for President?” shows how money can determine how a campaign is perceived.

“The answer to that question is remarkably complicated. It depends in large part on how much a candidate is able to raise. And it can vary wildly, from the candidate who operates on a shoestring budget to the gold-plated, multistate operations of the most serious contenders.” (Observation: Journalists will often tell us that something is “remarkably complicated” when it’s not in order to justify their jobs).

Note the words, “gold-plated, multistate operations of the most serious contenders.” The implication is that if you don’t have lots of money for your campaign, you aren’t a serious contender. Thank you New York Times for helping winnow out those loser candidates with ideas but no money.

Money not only determines the coverage you can buy, but it in large part it determines the coverage you get. The candidates with the largest bank roll often get the most free media attention because money means you are more deserving. “In terms of visibility, however, they mean everything. In primary politics name recognition equals money, money equals coverage, coverage equals name recognition, and name recognition equals–you guessed it–more money.”  It’s the law of money conservation; money gets conserved in the campaign with the most money.  Romney was twice as visible as Santorum in February despite Santorum’s three consecutive wins.  So instead of trying to hide his money and his tax statements, Mitt Romney should wave a wad of hundreds in front of him at every campaign stop to get attention like a woman might push up her chest or a man might thrust his bulge forward for the world to see. It shows his worthiness.

One positive thing I can say about Santorum is that he had the billionaire Foster Friess to back up his campaign. I like Friess for being brave enough to say what many of Santorum’s patriotic backers were afraid to say in public, that he hopes Obama’s “‘Teleprompters Are Bulletproof.’”  Only great Americans, billionaires, can say whatever they want about the president without getting into a big hassle over free speech. And luckily, Friess has billions in free speech dollars. Let’s hope he starts spending them on Romney.

Newt Gingrich also has his great benefactor billionaire, the third richest man in the U.S., Sheldon Adelson. “Mr. Adelson, by some estimates worth as much as $22 billion, presides over a global empire of casinos, hotels and convention centers whose centerpiece is the Venetian in Las Vegas, an exuberant monument to excess…”  Excess is just not on display enough in political campaigns, so I am glad Adelson is putting his cash where his mouth, Newt Gingrich, is. However, one billionaire can’t beat all of Wall Street.

And that is when I, Tex Shelters, started supporting Romney. Romney’s campaign is back stopped with Wall Street money and has cruised to victory over Santorum and Gingrich. It had nothing to do with Santorum and Gingrich just being more nutty than Romney. It had to do with all of Romney’s deserved campaign cash. Frankly, we don’t care what Romney’s positions are on social issues like abortion as long as he can give Obama a run for his money.

But then I learned that Obama gets much of his campaign money from the same donors as Romney: Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, UBS AG, and others. While most of the individual donations to Obama come from people giving $200 or less, most of his money comes form large donors. So perhaps Obama is not such a bad guy or socialist after all if he accepts all those donations from billionaires and millionaires as well.

Sorry kids, Granddad lied to you; it’s not about who you are, what morals you have, it’s about getting money at whatever the cost.  And that is why I would support Mitt Romney. Except, Obama has more money, so I will have to vote for him.  And besides, the candidate with the most money wins 90% of presidential elections. As long as Obama doesn’t challenge the basic assumptions of our economy that allows billionaires to hoard money while poverty increases, we’re fine with that. Unless, of course, Romney catches and passes Obama in the donation department.  Whoever wins, it’s a win-win for the billionaire class.

Tex Shelters


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