Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Movie Review: PANTHER

[From the May 19, 1995 issue of my old out of step newsletter.]

While the Clinton Justice Department and establishment media proceed to assail today’s citizen militias, Mario Van Peebles’ Panther has arrived in the nation’s movie theaters.

I love the irony.

Panther, you see, chronicles the early history of the most infamous citizen militia of the last 30 years — the Black Panther Party, founded in Oakland, California in 1966. It’s not a great film. Its characters are one-dimensional, so it’s not particularly involving dramatically. And viewers unfamiliar with figures like Huey Newton, Bobby Seale, or Eldridge Cleaver won’t really learn anything about those individuals. Since Van Peebles is known for action pictures, there are plenty of gratuitous explosions and gunfights peppered throughout the movie. There’s a gangster subplot that detracts from the movie’s general story thread.

But worst of all, many will say — and many have already said — Panther plays too loose with the facts. Well, maybe it does. And I’m not recommending that anyone fully accept the Black Panthers as portrayed by Van Peebles without pursuing some extra homework. But Panther, fictionalized as it is, arrives at a larger truth: the enemy isn’t black or white, or Right or Left; it’s unrestrained state power. And that, I think, is what’s most important about this film. And why I recommend that all concerned Americans see it.

Panther is brilliant agitprop. And whether or not it “plays fair,” its heart is in the right place. It speaks loudly for self-rule, self-reliance, community values, and self-defense. And it speaks loudly against over-reaching federal police powers, government secrecy, and gun control. And it has come into American theaters at a time when those messages most need to be heard.

At the height of Clinton’s anti-militia, anti-anti-government barrage, it’s amazing that a studio had the guts to send Panther to the theaters at this time. Van Peebles and Gramercy Pictures should be applauded.

UPDATE: Eleven years later, seeing Panther isn’t easy. You won’t find it on either broadcast or cable TV. Netflix doesn’t offer it for rent. More than a year after its theatrical run, Panther was finally released on VHS; you can still find a few used tapes through Amazon. It was briefly issued on DVD in 1998; Amazon shows only two copies available, the cheapest costing $140. Yet, judging from postings at Amazon.com, Panther seems to be gaining cult status, and there’s a demand for a new DVD release. I wonder — ahem — what could be holding it up.


At 12:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is available for rent through blockbuster.com.


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