Sundance 2015: The Black Panthers is a Solid Primer on a Subject That Deserves Something Bigger

By  · Published on January 26th, 2015

Sundance Film Festival

From its founding in 1966 to its dissolution in 1982, the Black Panthers struck fear into the hearts of skittish white people all over America. The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution moves through the entire history of the party, hitting all its major milestones and the notable figures involved. It’s very much the kind of doc destined to play on American Experience, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However, it does mean that the film works as little more than a solid primer.

The weakness here is the need to tackle the entire history of the Panthers. Given that the organization has endured decades of badmouthing from pop culture, correctives are a helpful, even necessary resource. But director Stanley Nelson has demonstrated that he works best when making films about more specific subjects. It’s one of the reasons his Jonestown: The Life and Death of the People’s Temple is so haunting.