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A couple of documentary recommendations

A couple of documentary recommendations

If you haven’t seen these two films I’d encourage you to make watching them a Black History Month project.

Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, is available for streaming on the PBS website. It’s likely to be broadcast again this month.

The story of the Panthers offers lessons on the power and limitations of political violence. As the arc of the movement plays out, you can see the challenges facing an insurgent movement, particularly when it fails to establish “legitimate” political control around a base geography. But beyond the political failure of the movement lay an impressive set of achievements.

We think of the Black Panthers as a political movement, but their most powerful legacy may be an aesthetic. Long after their leaders had been jailed, murdered or scattered, that legacy continues to bear fruit.

People who know virtually nothing about politics can see the image above and recognize a Black Panther. Where SCLC protestors in South embraced an aesthetic of conformity and compliance, a look that emphasized their essential human sameness with their white brothers, the Panthers wove their message of black independence into their clothes, their hair, and their walk.

As a political revolution it was quickly crushed, but as a cultural force it continues to spread. The Black Panthers preached an unapologetic black identity, a powerful validation of Blackness. They spawned a defiant pride in the same aesthetics that had been used to denigrate them in the past. Their legacy was pride.

I Am Not Your Negro was on PBS last month and will probably appear again. You can also watch it on Amazon or on your cable provider’s streaming service. The film is a digest of notes, letters, and an unfinished manuscript from James Baldwin, read by Samuel L. Jackson. In typical Baldwinesque form, it is relentlessly cutting and dark. It is not, however, pessimistic. Unlike other similarly razor-tongued social critics like H.L. Mencken, the power of Baldwin’s prose is its strange sense of compassion. Baldwin writes about white Americans with an intimacy and empathy that lends a unique horror to his condemnations. He’s not merely ranting in angry slogans through a bullhorn, he’s laying bare the heart-deep intricacies of a family drama.



      1. GOTV doesn’t have to be specific as long as Republicans turn out and push whatever “red” button is there. Surely, you are not suggesting that Republicans are going to deliberate about which party to support? Just: show up; vote Republican; go home; check FOX News to see if their guy won. Simple.

      2. If I am reading the PA redrawing of districts story right it will have no effect on Special Elections but the new map should be in play for the general election in November…and could create 3 opportunities for Democratic pick ups.

    1. PA-18 will be the first special election since that ABC poll came out showing Republicans with only a 6% average advantage in their own districts, and even if Dems lose, keeping a loss within low to mid-single digits will start to tell us what to expect heading into ’18. Have Republicans really rebounded or are the polls missing something?

      Still, you’re absolutely right that the GOP having to pour so much into a district that they should win with their eyes closed is quite telling. If they’re having to defend otherwise ruby red seats like these in addition to all of the far more competitive ones, their resources will be stretched thin and leave them vulnerable where they shouldn’t be.

      That aside, on the gerrymandering front, some think that we may be in for some very good news once Whitford finally comes down:

      If so, it’ll be a very good day for representative democracy, indeed. 🙂

      1. I’m more worried about one of the justices dying before the decision is handed down. Not to be negative, but that could be a real game-changer. Let’s just hope our progressive quartet stay healthy and the swing vote stays put.

      2. This is encouraging. Today, a bi-partisan vote in OH on Senate Resolution 5 may offer a way around gerrymandering and a more fair creation of congressional districts. Assuming the vote is also approved in the House, it will be presented to the people of OH for ratification. The process seems very fair and is especially encouraging because this was achieved on a bi-partisan basis even though the GOP holds the majority in the OH lege.

      3. Deep analysis of gerrymandering – and the computer modeling being used that has helped “pack and crack” election districts to achieve pre-determined outcomes….unless you get caught. Here’s the thing: finding the computer modeling tool now proves the validity of the WI case and finally gives the US SCt a definitive way to determine how gerrymandering is being used to rig election outcomes. Very interesting read.

      4. Thanks, for the linkage. I had read the article when it was first published in August. It was a very interesting read, then and now.

        The major comment that I have, is that very slowly a groundswell of public opinion against gerrymandering is forming. Eventually, (heaven knows when), blatant gerrymandering will be banned. The R’s have benefitted so much from it over the years, that they will fight like “ole billy hell” to keep it. I believe this is similar to gay marriage in our time, the women’s vote, repeal of prohibition, etc, in years past.

        On another subject, my wife was discharged from Acute Rehab, to outpatient rehab and home care on Monday. The last few days have been challenging, but hopefully they will settle down shortly. With the large supportive local family, there will be adequate help. Her recovery has been excellent and rapid, partly due to excellent health care facilities in Seattle, her active lifestyle and the supportive family.

    2. I will keep you all posted about PA 18. I lead a Resistance group here that started working to unseat pro-life Rep. Tim Murphy last year. When he got caught asking his mistress to get an abortion, he resigned.

      We have nominated Conor Lamb, a young, telegenic, actual NICE person. The Republicans have nominated Rick Saccone, who claims to have been Trump before there was Trump, and is most recently known for trying to get schools to display “In God We Trust”.

      I’ll report back often about our progress, but I can tell you now that enthusiasm among Democrats is HIGH in this district that went for Trump by 20. The republicans are freaking out because their own polling suggests we’ve made this a single digit race.

  1. I saw Mudbound and it was raw and bold in its honest depiction of white sharecroppers and their black workers. Terrific acting, some very tough scenes, including the bigoted father-in-law, clueless son, living together in grim living conditions which were an appropriate backdrop for the times.

  2. EJ

    Youtube has been spotlighting a number of excellent documentaries for Black History Month.

    Regardless of their quality, almost every one of those documentaries now has 50%+ dislikes. It appears that a large number of people find the concept of Black history documentaries to be objectionable.

  3. NYTimes has a surprisingly good list of historically significant and good quality black cinema:

    At least four of these movies are groundbreaking experimental films too, movies that show meaning isn’t relegated to continuity editing or plotting rules.

    One, I will admit, is notoriously boring as all get out. Daughters of the Dust is about as good a cure for insomnia as you could commit to film. But I don’t mark somniferousness against the quality of a movie, personally. Your mileage may vary.

    1. I would add _Do The Right Thing_, Spike Lee’s masterpiece about race relations in a Brooklyn neighborhood.

      Also, Re: Malcom X, while I enjoyed the movie, I really think his autobiography should be mandatory reading for all American students. It’s really easy to read and totally changed my view of him when I read it in high school (sadly, not because it was required, but because my Dad had a copy and he gave it to me).

      Also, if you haven’t seen _Get Out_, last year’s comedy-horror about a white girl who brings her black boyfriend home to meet her parents, it’s really good, and satirizes a lot of the tropes about interracial relationships.

      1. I read the Malcolm X Autobiography for a college history course. Very eye opening. As I read it I was thinking that despite living in the same country, Malcolm X and I had life experiences so different that we might as well have been on completely different planets.

        And now a bit of a thread jack- goddam Illinois Nazis are back:

        We need you more than ever, Jake and Elwood!

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