Thursday, 12 November 2015


As factual testament, documentaries possess a unique ability as works of art: they can validly claim to be definitive. They can commence a cultural discourse which they can also conclude, producing a portrait of their subject that is potentially whole, truthful and watertight. The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution aspires to be such a thing, and with noble cause - it's the first such doc about the revolutionary organisation, and a most thorough one too. In that sense, its definitiveness is certain enough as to convince this young, relatively uneducated reviewer; the film is functional, though not artless, in its depiction of the facts, and of those opinions which could only be dismissed as fiction by a certain type of person - a white snake, perhaps, rather than a black panther. Stanley Nelson's film doesn't capture the Black Panther movement's fervour, even if it does dutiful work at explicating its reasons for existing, nor does it replicate their revolutionary spirit. It's a serviceable work of documentation that happens to exist as art, by no means the vanguard within its artistic medium but an accurate and necessary article on one nonetheless. Fluid editing excellently choreographs a seamless tour through the organisation's central tenets and goals and its key events, and there's vital, characterful contextualisation from interviewees who were also members of the movement. With earnestness and respect, though without much else, The Black Panthers is indeed a fine piece of factual testament, and an ideal one to claim to be definitive.