Movie review: "Vanguard of the Revolution" an oral history of Black Panthers

Brad Keefe, Columbus Alive

"The Black Panthers: Vanguard Of The Revolution" is a fascinating introductory course to the revolutionary group told by those who were there – and a needed history lesson for white folk who may only know the organization as a Fox News bogeyman.

Director Stanley Nelson produced the film for PBS, where he also did 2006's outstanding "Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple." Through modern-day interviews, stock photos and footage and an amazing soundtrack from the era, Nelson recreates the rise and fall of the Black Panther Party in a tidy (sometimes a bit too tidy) two hours.

Formed in 1966 in Oakland, California, the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense (as it was originally called) was a direct reaction to rising police intimidation and mistreatment of urban blacks. Operating cautiously under existing law, members of the party would openly bear guns while observing police stops of blacks in their neighborhoods.

As word of their movement got out, it quickly went national, becoming a powerful player in the civil rights movement and a target of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, who called the Panthers "the greatest threat to the internal security of the country."

The approach of the documentary may be well-worn territory, but the depth of its interviews is impressive, which is good, because there's a lot to cover here.

This could have easily been a TV mini-series, and some questions go unasked, but this is a solid doc. It will appear on PBS in 2016, but I recommend the theater experience.

Opens Friday at the Gateway Film Center

3 stars