In her essay, “One Year After,” which assesses post-9/11 America, Susan Sontag makes note of “. . . freedom fighters once called terrorists (as was the French Resistance by the Vichy government, and the ANC and Nelson Mandela by the apartheid South African government) but subsequently relabeled by history.” American history hasn’t yet gotten around to relabeling the Black Panthers largely because it still hasn’t resolved its Negro problem, period. REDCAT’s three-day survey of documentaries about the Party — the social and political circumstances that led to its formation; the heady but bloody years of possibility when it was a combo of social services, armed protection and political mouthpiece for the black community; and the reverberating fallout of the FBI’s COINTELPRO program — lays out the fears engendered by the movement, but makes no bones about where its sympathies lie: squarely in the pro-Panther camp. The five featured films span 30 years of history, and although they’re all fantastic, the three to check out if forced to choose are 1971’s classic The Murder of Fred Hampton, the 2007 short film Legacy of Torture: The War Against the Black Liberation Movement and 2006’s Bastards of the Party. Coming so soon after the 1969 slaying of the eponymous Illinois Panther Party activist by Chicago police, Murder is a careful, overwhelmingly immediate dissecting of the government plot against Hampton, filled with hot-off-the-presses crime-scene footage, news clips and original interviews. The meticulously researched Bastards of the Party connects the dots between the fall of the Panthers and the rise of modern black gangs, resulting in a bleak, emotionally brutal portrait that’s riveting for its insights and analysis. While Legacy of Torture shows the U.S.’s policy on dissenters to be as horrifying as any Third World dictator’s, the highlight of that screening will likely be the panel discussion that follows, which is scheduled to include the aged Panthers from the film and actor/activist Danny Glover. (At REDCAT Thurs.-Sat., Jan. 10-12. www.redcat.org.)
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