Reading Up on the Panthers

For the Cause

In Oakland, moving in and out of social justice communities, it’s tough not to hear references on a regular basis to the Black Panther Party which had its roots here. A few weekends ago I was found myself watching a film at the International Black Women’s Film Festival called For the Cause, a fictional story about two ex-panthers and their daughter, Mirai.

Mirai’s father is in prison, convicted of murdering a police officer back in the heyday of the Panthers. Mirai has a strained relationship with him, and her mother won’t even talk about him at all. Throughout the film you start to get a fuller, complex picture of the parents’ history and what it felt like to be active back in the movement. There is also a great love story being told about Mirai in her partner, that gets tied up with the unfolding of the parents’ past.

I really enjoyed the history-mixed-with-story feeling of the film, and the spectacular acting from the full cast. I’m not sure where else the For the Cause film will be showing, but I would definitely recommend it to anyone interested in activism history in the U.S.

About a year ago I read a book by two scholars at UC Berkeley called Black Against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party. The work gave a fairly comprehensive history of the Black Panther Party’s rise and fall, as well as an intriguing analysis about why it became so popular at the time that it did and why it didn’t survive. But, without giving away to much of the story from the film,  I’ll say that watching the movie made me interested in picking up another book — Elaine Brown’s memoir on the Panthers, A Taste of Power: A Black Woman’s Story, where she discusses her experience with sexism as a high-ranking member of the Panthers. While the Black Against Empire book touches on gender power imbalances, it doesn’t quite delve into them enough to feel satisfying, and Brown’s memoir might serve to shed some light on that aspect of the history.

Any other great social movement books I should add to my reading list?

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