The Black Panther Project

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Even though the Black Panther Party existed approximately 40 years ago, there is a legacy of resistance to injustice but also jailed Panther political prisoners, Panthers in exile and renewed government pursuit of unsolved political “crimes.�

(Kathleen and Eldridge Cleaver).

Because people have been asking about it, this is an update about the progress of my BLACK PANTHER PARTY series project.

This documentary series will tell the complete and often unsettling story of the life and times of the Black Panther Party For Self-Defense through the recollections of those who were part of that movement. The initial funding for research and script development came from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and the Independent Television Service (ITVS). Originally conceived as a 4 part series of one-hour programs each, the format has been re-configured into two 2-hour parts due to programming difficulties.

We will also include both critics and supporters of the organization, former party members, former black and white activists, journalists and even former police and government agents who infiltrated the ranks of this militant organization. Former BPP Chairman Bobby Seale, former Secretary of Information Kathleen Cleaver, scholar Charles Jones have been signed as consultants for the project.

Seale, Cleaver and Jones together with screenwriter Lou Potter, Coordinating Producer Nancy Oey and I went to Atlanta for a long-weekend work session. This work session produced a treatment outline and list of potential interviewees for each of the segments.

Last year, l traveled to Paris to film interviews with past Panther collaborator Julia Wright and Donald Cox (“DC�) a former BPP Field Marshall exiled in France for almost 40 years. The occasion was a memorial service for Ellen Wright, the wife of Black writer Richard Wright. Ellen Wright and her daughter Julia had been extremely helpful in assisting those fugitive Black Panthers who passed through or in some cases settled underground in Paris, including Eldridge and Kathleen Cleaver.

The memorial brought some of these survivors together and presented me with an opportunity to establish relationships with several BPP veterans. I videotaped Julia Wright, Kathleen Cleaver and Donald Cox. I met other ex-Panthers and supporters who committed to interviews when I return. Among them was George Brown who hijacked a plane in Detroit and flew to Algiers. It is important to record the subjects because of their age and vulnerability. Julia Wright gave background information about the political atmosphere in Paris in the late 1960’s when she returned to Paris when Nkrumah was killed. Julia described how meeting Eldridge and Kathleen Cleaver in Paris renewed her “revolutionary zeal� which had been burnt out after working with Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana.

Kathleen Cleaver gave another perspective, describing how she and Julia became close personal friends as Julia helped her cope with Paris as a young mother. Julia also enabled Eldridge and Kathleen to travel to Algiers where they set up the International Section of the Black Panther Party. Donald Cox described his life in the Party in its early days, life in Algiers as part of the Party’s International Section and his reason for resigning from the Panthers.

I also went to the Bay area to do audio-interviews with Emory Douglas, the Editorial Art Director for the BPP Newspaper and creator of the many distinctive Panther posters, brochures and propaganda material; Stuart Hanlon, the defense lawyer for Geronimo Pratt Jijagga, who was falsely accused of murder and spent 27 years in jail before being freed and Reggie Major, San Francisco-based author of A PANTHER IS A BLACK CAT, and personal friend to the Panther leadership from the beginning of the BPP until the present.

Emory Douglas described the internal workings of the BPP office headquarters and how his artwork changed and reflected the evolution of the political vibe of the organization. Stuart Hanlon gave an observer’s account of the last day of BPP from the mid-70’s until the end. His astute comments about the nature of leadership and the cult-of-personality created through the media will add depth to the BPP narrative.

Reggie Major was a personal friend of all the main founders of the Party as well as the author of A PANTHER IS A BLACK CAT, a book about the early days and impact of the Party. He remains a current observer and friend of the Bay Area Party survivors. Even though the Black Panther Party existed approximately 40 years ago, there is a legacy of resistance to injustice but also jailed Panther political prisoners, Panthers in exile and renewed government pursuit of unsolved political “crimes.�

For example, there is the recent conviction in Atlanta of Kamaau Sidiki, formerly Freddie Hilton, of murdering an Atlanta policeman back in 1971, the continued imprisonment of former Black Panthers such as Eddie Conway for over 30 years in Maryland on charges of murder, the persecution of Mumia Abu-Jamal because of his former Black Panther Party membership, and others.

In addition, the persecution also continues against former BPP allies, with renewed efforts to prosecute former American Indian Movement (AIM) members and former Weather Underground members. Because of the political nature of this project and the current political climate in the US, there may be attempts to prevent this production from coming to fruition. I will keep you informed about our progress and hopefully this constant visibility will protect this production from possible interference.

The next step is to create a trailer in order to help raise co-production money.

Visit Producer-Director St.Clair Bourne at  http://www.chambanotes.blogspot.com

To subscribe to or advertise in New York’s leading Pan African weekly investigative newspaper, please call (212) 481-7745 or send a note to Milton@blackstarnews.com

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