5 Must-See Movies About The Real Black Panthers

Photo: Rusty Kennedy/AP/REX/Shutterstock.
The wait is nearly over. In less than a week, Black people and lovers of Marvel movies are going to flood theaters to see Black Panther. The superhero movie is a huge win for Black audiences who’ve been craving to see themselves as the hero for a change. It’s not the first Black superhero movie, but it certainly feels like it. Black Panther is so enticing because it hopefully suggests a shift in centering white men as saviors of the world. But it also conjures the spirit of a radical political organization that shares a name with the new Marvel project.
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Dressed in all Black, donning afros, and frequently seen accessorizing with rifles and the ammunition vests that inspired Beyoncé’s 2016 Super Bowl look, members of the Black Panther Party inspired the same sense of Black pride in the ‘60s and ‘70s as Chadwick Boseman does in his panther suit today. The Black Panther Party was established by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seales in 1966 in response to evolving forms of racism — namely police brutality — Black communities were experiencing in Oakland, California, in the wake of freshly won Civil Rights. One of their major practices was arming Black citizens with knowledge and weapons to defend themselves. However, they also instituted other programs like community health clinics and their Free Breakfast program for children. Ideologically, the BPP believed in socialism as a means of accomplishing Black liberation during a time when Black communities were severely lacking in resources. They also believed in fighting the fire of white supremacy with even more fire.
Unfortunately, the FBI (under the control of J. Edgar Hoover) identified the Black Panther Party as a domestic threat to the “security” of the country. Hoover oversaw COINTELPRO, a counterintelligence program that infiltrated the organization and ultimately led to its demise in the ‘70s, even going so far as assassinating its leaders. Despite the strong influence that the Black Panther Party had on the overall fight for Black liberation in the United States, they are still considered a hate group and shamed for their radical practices.
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As such, there aren’t an abundance of films that pay tribute to this important organization. But there are a few that are definitely worth your time. So while Black Panther is setting the tone for the future of Black people in the superhero genre, watch these movies to dust up on some Black history about the real Black Panthers.
It's Black History Month, but at Refinery29, we believe in celebrating Black voices, Black art, and Black women 365 days of the year. Follow us on Instagram at @r29unbothered for more on issues that affect Black women's everyday lives.
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Black Panthers (1968)
This short documentary was shot in the heyday of the BPP, during massive protests in the wake of Newton’s arrest for the murder of John Frey. But it’s more than that. Black women speak up about why their role in the Party is important. It’s also a first glimpse at a natural hair movement that was inspired by the BPP’s principles of pro-Blackness and is still thriving today. Despite being filmed before the full impact of the Black Panthers was apparent, it’s still a testament to the imprint they left on American Blackness.
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Panther (1995)
This is one of the only dramatized version of the entire history of the Panthers that stands on its own despite creative license.
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Photo: Richard Sheinwald/AP/REX/Shutterstock.
All Power to the People (1996)
Director Lee Lew-Lee directed this exposé on how the government conspired to take down those at the helm of the Black Panther and other Civil Rights leaders. If you’re a conspiracy theorist, this is right up your alley, except the facts presented in All Power to the People are hard to brush off as rubbish.
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Photo: Louverture/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock.
The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 (2011)
Chronicling the Black Power movement in the United States over the course of 9 years — for many of which the Panthers were still very active — this documentary offers context on the state of Black America at the time. Made 30 years later, this documentary includes interviews from people like Angela Davis, who was a member of the Party, and contemporary figures that were inspired by it.
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Photo: Sal Veder/AP/REX/Shutterstock.
The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution (2015)
Directed by Stanley Nelson, this PBS documentary is the first full-length documentary dedicated solely to the BPP.
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