Black Panthers documentary shines light on social inequality

The audience watches "Black Panthers: Vanguard of Revolution" at a screening arranged by the Ethnic Studies Students Organization in cooperation with KQED for the 50th anniversary of the Black Panther Party at Jack Adams Hall in the Cesar Chavez Student Center, Monday Feb. 8, 2016. (Ryan Zaragoza / Xpress)

The audience watches “Black Panthers: Vanguard of Revolution” at a screening arranged by the Ethnic Studies Students Organization in cooperation with KQED for the 50th anniversary of the Black Panther Party at Jack Adams Hall in the Cesar Chavez Student Center, Monday Feb. 8, 2016. (Ryan Zaragoza / Xpress)

The line was long, and more than 100 people signed up in advance for the screening of the documentary “The Black Panthers: Vanguard of Revolution” and the subsequent panel discussion Monday at 2 p.m. in Jack Adams Hall at SF State.

Kenneth P. Monteiro, dean of the College of Ethnic Studies at SF State, said that in order to understand the Black Panther Party, we have to understand its contemporaries.

“During the ’60s, people called it a time with civil unrest,” said Monteiro. “Some of us remember it more like a period of civil war. There were people who were willing to put their lives on the line for freedom, but we also had a government who were willing to take those lives if you got in front of the guards.”

The screening was arranged by the Ethnic Studies Students Organization in cooperation with KQED on the 50th anniversary of the Black Panther Party, which was founded in 1962 and dissolved in the beginning of the ’80s.

The movie deals with the founding of the Black Panther Party from a grassroots organization to a large national movement that was considered to be dangerous, and was systematically monitored by the FBI. The documentary also provides insight to how the Black Panthers were a political party more so than the militant and male dominated picture that is often shown in the media.

Sophia Wenzel, vice president of ESSO, still believes that the themes the Black Panther Party addressed back in the 1960s are still deeply relevant today, including racism and the fight for social equality.

“Even though the black power movement was in the ’60s and we have made certain advances, there are still groups of people that are systematically oppressed,” Wenzel said.

College of Ethnic Studies Dean Kenneth P. Montiero before addressing the audience at the screening of "Black Panthers: Vanguard of Revolution" in Jack Adams Hall in the Cesar Chavez Student Center on Monday, Feb. 8, 2016.  (Ryan Zaragoza / Xpress)

College of Ethnic Studies Dean Kenneth P. Montiero before addressing the audience at the screening of “Black Panthers: Vanguard of Revolution” in Jack Adams Hall in the Cesar Chavez Student Center on Monday, Feb. 8, 2016. (Ryan Zaragoza / Xpress)

Monteiro shares the same notions that the themes and issues the Black Panthers stood up against back then are still relevant today.

“We have evolved some,” Monteiro said in an email. “More rights are afforded to more people, and contrary to popular myth, we are on average a less violent society, overall. Still, though less overtly oppressive, we remain significantly oppressive and more sophisticated about it. The police and other authority-sponsored attacks or murders against black, brown and other marginalized communities attests to this.”

18-year-old student Nekay Abriol came to the screening to be better informed about the Black Panther movement, and found the movie both interesting and trustworthy. Like Monteiro and Wenzel, Abriol also agreed that issues the Black Panther Party raised are still prevalent at SF State.

“Racial oppression still exists, and there is still a huge push towards that,” Abriol said. “We still need racial equality. The oppression is not as big as it was in the ’60s, but there is still an oppression, and people are not informed about what is happening. And therefore the need on campus is to inform them.”

Monteiro said in an email that he still thinks there is a current need to talk about and work toward racial equality on campus.

“To those for whom it is not obvious, we would need much more than one article to educate them on this issue,” Monteiro said.

“The Black Panthers: Vanguard of Revolution” will be shown Feb. 16 on PBS.

Latest comment
  • Much archival newsfilm from SF State’s Bay Area TV Archive was used in the making of Stanley Nelson’s film. Anyone interested in following up on the issues raised can view this raw material online, in SF State’s DIVA virtual archive: https://diva.sfsu.edu/collections/sfbatv/3005