Stanley Nelson, director of the new documentary “The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution,” tells Variety‘s “PopPolitics” that the film resonates even more today than a year ago, as the focus of the national conversation turned to racial profiling and police brutality.
“You could have dismissed the Panthers a year ago, and said, ‘These were just militant young black people 50 years ago,’ but it is just so stringing the similarity to today,” Nelson says.
The movie, which has opened in New York and other cities, debuts in Los Angeles on Sept. 25 and is the most comprehensive documentary on the Black Panther Party, focusing on its rise in Oakland in the late 1960s, started by a group of young activists determined to make a show of self defense in light of pervasive police brutality, to its decline with infighting among its members and ongoing surveillance by the FBI.
Its leaders, Huey Newton and Bobby Seale and later Eldridge Cleaver, were adept at drawing media attention, even as they became targets not just of federal authorities but of political rhetoric focused on law and order.
“The Panthers started as a way to defend themselves from the police,” Nelson says. “Then they had a 10-point program that was an end to police brutality. Better schools. Better food. Better housing. Better education. All things that we could say are things that are exactly what we are fighting for today.”
“So I think what has happened in the last year or so has kind of opened people’s minds, it has kind of cracked the door a little bit and made it so this film can come in. At least you can be open to it and see it with more of an open mind than you might have a year, a year and a half ago.”
Nelson says what can’t be forgotten is how young the Panthers’ leaders were. The Panthers “were great at working with the media, at manipulating the media…But they also were very bad at solving their own internal problems, but also at understanding what it meant to be going up against the FBI.”
Nelson talks about finding footage of an argument between Newton, in the United States, and Cleaver, on the phone from Algeria, where he was living.
Nelson talks of how he was inspired to get into documentary filmmaking by a 1971 movie, “The Murder of Fred Hampton,” about the police shooting of one of the Panthers’ emerging leaders in Chicago.
James Cameron’s Next Climate Push: The American Diet
When director James Cameron trekked to Washington in 2010 to press for action on climate change and appear at an Earth Day rally, he returned not just disappointed, but disillusioned.
One lawmaker, worried about the shift toward denying the existence of man-made global warming, advised him that to even use the word “climate change” was the “instant kiss of death for any proposed legislation.”
Five years later, Cameron hasn’t given up, and he’s even a bit more optimistic. On Tuesday, he will take part in the U.S.-China Climate Leaders Summit in Los Angeles, appearing at a lunchtime panel with Sam Kass, former White House senior nutrition policy adviser, about the relationship between food and climate change.
Cameron is pursuing more of a niche focus when it comes to climate change activism, citing “the real lack of information at the public level about the links between sustainable agriculture and food choices we are making and climate change, and there is a direct impact.”
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Cameron talk about the Climate Leaders Summit in Los Angeles on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The Next Debate: Carly Fiorina’s Moment?
David Cohen of Variety and Nikki Schwab of the Daily Mail talk about this week’s GOP debate from the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, where Carly Fiorina will be participating in the main event. Given Donald Trump’s recent comments about her face, the spotlight will be on whether she chooses to address it.
“PopPolitics,” hosted by Variety’s Ted Johnson, airs Thursdays at 2 p.m. ET/11 a.m. ET on SiriusXM’s political channel POTUS. It also is available on demand.