What We Want, What We Believe: The Black Panther Library

“They’re saying the Black Panthers are subversive.”

What We Want, What We Believe: The Black Panther Library is a four-disc set that offers 12 hours of information regarding various aspects of the Black Panthers. This DVD set is not an A-Z history of how the Black Panthers were formed, and the viewer will be best served if the DVDs are watched with prior knowledge of some of the names, and some of the incidents that occurred within the Black Panther movement.

Disc One contains three Newsreel films–“Off the Pig” (footage that illustrates the Black community’s relationship with the Police, and Bobby Seale’s 10-point plan for the Panthers), “Mayday” (a record of the May 1st, 1969 mass demonstrations held to free Huey Newton) and “Repression” (interviews with various Panthers: “The ruling class never learns the lessons of history”). Then it’s onto a long interview with Donald Cox, former Blank Panther Field Marshall who now lives in exile in France. This is followed by extracts of the 35th Reunion of the Black Panther Party. Also on Disc One are ‘audio’ only features.

Disc Two includes question and answer sessions from the Wheelock Conference, and interviews with two former FBI agents–Special Agents William A. Cohendet and Wesley Swearingen.

Disc Three contains interviews with Black Panther movement lawyers, and Disc Four contains interviews with various Newsreel Film members–including Roz Payne. The four disc set comes with a booklet that explains how Newsreel Films was formed, and Roz Payne discusses how she began to record her experiences and the experiences of her friends within the Black Panther Party on film. When Payne began recording these archival films, they were not intended for commercial use, but the films were solely to record events as they occurred or as opportunities presented themselves. As a result, the footage retains a “home-movie” quality.

As it stands, the 12 hours of footage here is remarkable and priceless, and if you are at all interested in learning more about the Black Panthers, this DVD set is a mine of information. Not only does the footage provide a sense of the times, but also the various films stand as witness to events–and sometimes as versions of events that are not necessarily the same versions of events that are now found in history books. Of particular interest are the interviews with the two FBI agents, and Swearingen’s admission that the FBI staged the shootings of John Huggins and Bunchy Carter using Geogre and Ali Stiner. He describes that the setup “went wrong”, the Stiners were convicted but they mysteriously ‘walked’ out of San Quentin a few months later. Swearingen’s interview is long and riveting as he describes the moral quagmire of working within the highly racist FBI Los Angeles Black Panther Group. His interview provides some invaluable insights into the workings of the FBI’s COINTELPRO programme that used a variety of techniques to break the Panthers–including: factionalism, wiretapping, “psychological warfare … planting false media stories … legal harassment; and extralegal force and violence.” Swearingen relates stories of how “neutralizing” the Black Panther Party was achieved by COINTELPRO, and it’s not pretty….

For those who’d like to learn more about the activities of the COINTELPRO programme, read Ward Churchill’s books Agents of Repression: The FBI’s Secret Wars Against the Black Panther Party and the American Indian Movement and The COINTELPRO Papers: Documents from the FBI’s Secret Wars Against Dissent in the United States.

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Filed under Documentary, Political/social films

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