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Posts Tagged ‘Films on Television’

The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution USA (2015)

Posted by keith1942 on July 30, 2020

The Black Panther Party was one of the most important organisations in the struggle for full emancipation for black people in the United States. This was a struggle for Civil Rights rather than national liberation: but it was an important part of the twin struggles of class struggle in advanced capitalist societies and liberation struggles of the oppressed peoples and nations. The Panthers were, at least initially, inclined to a nationalist perspective on the struggle but as the party developed it became a more class conscious and internationalist organisation. Thus the description of ‘Vanguard of the Revolution’ in the title of this full-length featured documentary is fully deserved.

Running for just on a hundred minutes the title offers a narrative of the development of the Panthers from their founding in 1966 up until their serious decline in the early 1980s. The narrative is full of asides that focus on aspects of the Party’s History. There are portraits of the important members of the Party including Huey Newton, Bobby Hutton, Bobby lease, Eldridge Cleaver, Fred Hampton and Elaine Brown.

The distinctive feature of the Panthers was their emphasis on self-defence for black communities. They utilised the constitutional right to bear arms in order to carry weapons for defence; and this involved monitoring police actions bearing arms. It is instructive that the Republican Party and the California governor Ronald Reagan, normally advocates of unlimited gun control, passed the Mulford Act in 1967 to restrict this right; specifically aimed at the Panthers. Even more oppressive was the reaction of the Federal government and in particular the Federal Bureau of Investigation, then led by the powerful and reactionary J. Edgar Hoover.

“counterintelligence program (COINTELPRO) of surveillance, infiltration, perjury, police harassment, and many other tactics, designed to undermine Panther leadership, incriminate and assassinate party members, discredit and criminalize the Party, and drain organizational resources and manpower.” (quoted on Wikipedia).

The title presents a number of episodes where the FBI and other state security organs used and abused their powers to attempt to subvert the Panthers, on more than one occasion resulting in state sponsored murder.

Several Panther leaders were prosecuted, though the process was suspect. And this persecution resulted in broad support for the Panthers from Civil Rights and Revolutionary [in embryo] organisations and demonstrations involving large popular participation. The ‘Free Huey! Campaign’ was a notable example. But the FBI campaign was successful in the longer term as the film indicates. A notable example of these state trials was the prosecution of the ‘Chicago Eight’, including Bobby Seale, following the conflict around the 1968 Democratic Convention in the city. The conduct of the trial, including the racist treatment of Seale, can be seen in the 1970 The Chicago Conspiracy Trial and the 1987 Conspiracy The Trial of the Chicago 8. And the trial is also referenced in a number of other films, including works by Jean-Luc Godard and Peter Watkins. The use of the law to pursue Eldridge and Kathleen Cleaver led to them leaving the USA and finally setting up an international bureau in Algeria. The Panthers both received support from Liberation Struggles and took an open stand supporting liberation struggles. This internationalism was one of the most positive angles of the Panther politics.

Another aspect delineated in the documentary are the social activities of the Panthers. The most notable part of this was the ‘Free Breakfast for Children Program’ which ran in Los Angeles. There were also health programs and organisation actions to help black communities fight poverty and economic exploitation.

At the end of the 1960s the Panthers were well organised, successful and enjoyed respect and support across the Afro-American population. However, the overt and covert actions buy the state undermined the organisation and splits within the leadership exacerbated this. The Panthers maintained active and influential throughout the 1970s but by 1980 they were in serious decline. And sections became involved direct criminality.

The documentary charts this history with detail and much illustration. However, there is a real weakness when we look at the coverage of the politics of the Panthers. There is a reference to the 1967 ‘Ten Point Program’; but this does not present the whole programme. The documentary is also scanty in the way that it presents the influences on the Panther politics; including that of liberation movements and the ‘socialist’ camp:

Wikipedia offers Curtis Austin writing that by late 1968, Black Panther ideology had evolved from black nationalism to become more a “revolutionary internationalist movement”:

“[The Party] dropped its wholesale attacks against whites and began to emphasize more of a class analysis of society. Its emphasis on Marxist–Leninist doctrine and its repeated espousal of Maoist statements signalled the group’s transition from a revolutionary nationalist to a revolutionary internationalist movement. Every Party member had to study Mao Tse-tung’s “Little Red Book” to advance his or her knowledge of peoples’ struggle and the revolutionary process.” [2006 book on the Panthers].

One wry reference in the documentary recounts how the Panthers sold the ‘Little Red Book’ on campuses for a profit. But, for example, the development from a Black Nationalist standpoint to a Revolutionary Class-conscious standpoint is not really detailed.

One response to the documentary quoted on Wikipedia is:

 “Elaine Brown, a former Black Panther Party leader, criticized the film, writing that it presents “a disparaging portrait of Huey P. Newton” and that Nelson “[excised] from his film the Party’s ideological foundation and political strategies, […] reducing our activities to sensationalist engagements, as snatched from establishment media headlines.” [Elaine Brown has appeared in discussion programmes on Al Jazeera presenting an acute analysis of C21st US capital].

Elaine Brown represents one of the other developments in the Panthers; a move away from a male chauvinist position and the relegation of women to support roles to a much more clearly defined revolutionary position on gender roles. This is something highlighted in the documentary.

The limitations of this production reflect the limitations of the main stream media with the documentary aimed at that sort of platform. Much of the illustrative film footage has been re-framed to the 16:9 standard for television. However, there is little available on the Panthers in Moving Images. There is a 2010 documentary, 41st & Central: The Untold Story of the L.A. Black Panthers on the ‘Bay Area’ Chapter of the Panthers. The title refers to a violent raid on the Panther Chapter by the Los Angeles Police Department. The Wikipedia pages on the Panthers provide much detail of the organisation’s history.

Both PBS in the USA and BBC 4 in Britain have aired the documentary and it is likely to be aired again in the future; [it is currently appearing on the British PBS channel].. It is a flawed but  fascinating treatment of a seminal organisation in the history of US Civil Rights and even more class conscious action. Clearly the Panthers continue to exercise an importance influence which can be seen in the current ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement. The latter is a varied set of groups and politics, but the more radical elements reflect both the class consciousness and the internationalism of the mature Panther Party. It is an interesting reflection on the context that whilst the only response of the state to the Panthers was organised violence there are clear attempts to co-op the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement both by capital and elements of the US state like the Democratic Party. If a high tide of revolt occurs, as was the situation when the Panthers arose, then elements in this movement might rival the Panthers in some ways.

The Black Panther Party first publicized its original “What We Want Now!” Ten-Point program on May 15, 1967, following the Sacramento action, in the second issue of The Black Panther newspaper.

We want freedom. We want power to determine the destiny of our Black Community.

We want full employment for our people.

We want an end to the robbery by the Capitalists of our Black Community.

We want decent housing, fit for shelter of human beings.

We want education for our people that exposes the true nature of this decadent American society. We want education that teaches us our true history and our role in the present day society.

We want all Black men to be exempt from military service.

We want an immediate end to POLICE BRUTALITY and MURDER of Black people.

We want freedom for all Black men held in federal, state, county and city prisons and jails.

We want all Black people when brought to trial to be tried in court by a jury of their peer group or people from their Black Communities, as defined by the Constitution of the United States.

We want land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice and peace.

Posted in Documentary | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Miners shot down, South Africa 2015.

Posted by keith1942 on May 28, 2015

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This is a documentary about the killing of 34 striking miners at the Marikana mine by the South African Security Forces in 2012. It has been aired on the Al Jazeera Witness series:

An inspiring documentary series that brings world issues into focus through compelling human stories. Wednesdays and Sundays – Freeview 133 in the UK.

The film was written by  director Rehad Desai, and producer Anita Khanna for Uhuru Productions: it runs for 52 minutes. Rehad Desai was filming in the area in 2012 and has followed the events since. After the shootings the Farlan Commission of Enquiry was set up to look into the events. The film uses testimony to the Commission, interviews with survivors and the lawyers representing the families of those killed: but most tellingly police and news film footage which was released to the Enquiry.

The film follows events from the start of the strike to the massacre five days later. The black miners all worked for the Lonmin mining company, a British based international company. There were numerous complaints by miners, but the key demands that led to the strike were parity in wage rates with other mines and proper safety levels. The exploitation of black miners goes right back to the foundations of the British colony in the South of Africa. Cecil Rhodes began his career in the mining industry. Later the mining sector was a crucial economic factor in the Apartheid regime: with global corporations involved in the extraction of precious commodities, the Marikana mine included the extraction of platinum. It was the international sanctions and their effect on this sector that was a powerful pressure leading to the settlement by the regime with the African National Congress.

The striking miners who took action had largely been represented by the National Union of Mineworkers: described by activists as

“in the pockets of management”.

An alternative union, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, was developing support. The Lonmin management was unwilling to enter any sort of negotiations. So the miners took what was described as ‘unofficial action ‘. Almost immediately there was violence directed at the striking miners, first by the mine security guards and then by security men from the official Union. In the first couple of days there were fatalities on both sides. The miners developed their own unofficial leaders: one in particular, ‘Mambush’ was distinguished by the green blanket that he wore. He is now dead.

Increasingly the South African police became a presence. I described them as ‘security forces’. Their leaders bear military titles, e.g. General Mbomo.  Moreover, when you see them on the film they look like an army: automatic weapons, flak jackets, armoured vehicles and helicopters. And the footage of the violence against the miners could as easily come from a battlefield as from a picket line. In fact, there is not a picket line in the usual sense. The miners picked out a gathering place under  local kopje. And the confrontations mainly took place as the miners attempted to go to the mine to try and get a response from the management.

We actually see and hear little of the management. Overall they seem to have attempted to ignore the demands and force the miners back to work. The Commission brought to light emails and telephone calls between the mine management and members of the NUMW and the government. One example concerns Cyril Ramphosa. As leader of the National Union of Mineworkers he was a key figure in the struggle against the Apartheid regime. Like a number of figures involved in the leadership of that struggle, since independence, he has acquired interests in the capitalist firms that dominate South Africa. He now has a personal fortune in the millions. As the Al Jazeera WebPages note.

“What emerges is collusion at the top, spiralling violence, police brutality and the country’s first post-apartheid massacre.”

The massacre took place on the final day. The police attempted to corral the miners, using armoured cars and razor wire. Then the shooting started. 17 miners were shot dead, many more were wounded. A little later a second burst of firing opened and 17 more miners died. The Al Jazeera opening warns that some of the images are ‘distressing’. This is the case. Whilst the actual killings are not clearly seen in the police footage, the dead bodies are. Mambush’s corpse had 14 bullet holes.

Just as the leaders tried to cover up the machinations during the strike, so the police tried to cover up the unjustified violence on that day. The film actually has footage of the National Police Commissioner telling the assembled police cohorts that over the four days they had demonstrated the ‘best of responsible policing.’

The Farlan Commission has concluded its investigation, taking two years in the process. The final report has been presented to President Zuma, but has yet to see the light of day [it is promised in June]. Here in the UK the strike has faded from media consciousness. there has been little coverage of the Commission: as usual the exception being The Guardian. They had an article, based on interviews with survivors and their lawyers, which corroborates the view presented in the film. (Massacre at the mine Tuesday 19.05.15).

Both the film and The Guardian article suggest a problem in the New South Africa. Desai’s film sadly reflects on the day when Independence arrived and Nelson Mandela became president; a time of expectations. The Guardian points back to the alliance that provided the basis for that day – between the ANC, the South African Communist Party and the Trade Union Movement.

This is a partial view and implicit [but not explicit] in the film is the recognition that whilst the new South Africa has bought political resolution to the oppression of the apartheid era the underlying exploitation continues. The developments since the end of Apartheid fit exactly into the analysis and warning provided by Franz Fanon in The Pitfalls of National Consciousness. Essentially the deal included not just the ANC and the Apartheid Regime but International Capital. The corporations that expropriated the surplus under Apartheid continue to expropriate under the new arrangements. The leading voice  on the side of the ANC in this settlement was Nelson Mandela: his stardom in the so-called International Community stems from this deal, which avoided a through-going expropriation by the South African majority. Marikana is an example that even now , two decades on, the methods used to enforce that expropriation still retain aspects of neo-colonialism. The film offers a timely and powerful reminder about the real South Africa today.

Al Jazeera has pages on the film and an interview with Desai.

PS I re-watched this film on the evening of the 5th on Al Jazeera. It has a couple of extra titles recording the Commission’s report which calls for further investigation of the police but lets the South African State off the hook. The film, as before,  ends with stills and information on the victims of this State violence. However, it was cut short last night as the e moved to a Wather Forecast! Whilst credit to Al Jazeera for screening such films, they deserve better treatment. There is always a ‘newsline’ across the bottom of the screen which is distracting.

 

 

Posted in African Cinema, Documentary | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Al Nakba, Al Jazeera 2008.

Posted by keith1942 on May 19, 2015

AlNakbaExpulsion2

I have been meaning to post on this four part documentary for some time. Now I see that it is being repeated on the UK channel, [Freeview 133}.  It is not that easy to access detailed listings for the Channel, but the UK TV Guide gives days and times but not which episode. I assume [and hope] that it is available elsewhere on Al Jazeera, it was showing on the Arabic channel. This is a documentary film about ‘the catastrophe’ that befell the Palestinian people in 1948. It traces the history of the colonial policies and actions that led to their expulsion from their homeland. It was made by Palestinian filmmaker and journalist Rawan Damen in 2008 and transmitted on the Al Jazeera Arabic network. Now an English-Language version is screened in the UK, with other language versions also available. It runs for 200 minutes and is going out in four parts. The episodes already transmitted are repeated several times.

Rawan Damen’s film is a fairly conventional television documentary using ‘talking heads’ and film and photographs. Much of the material and comment has been available in academic and historical publication. But now it is being presented in a fairly popular medium and it has the advantage of using visual material, which brings an increased power to the story. The film starts with the Napoleonic invasion of Egypt, a key event that was analysed by the Palestinian writer Edward Said in his great work Orientalism. The first two episodes address the British occupation and Mandate of Palestine following the First World War. In was in that conflict that the new Zionist Movement achieved its coup of the Balfour Declaration – the British support for a Jewish State was seen as a way of ensuring the British presence and it’s interests across the Middle East. It is difficult to decide which was more objectionable: the British colonial manipulation of a people and its lands, or the Machiavellian manoeuvrings of the Zionist in pursuit of a ‘Greater Israel’. Certainly the policies and practices of each have much in common. The British Mandate saw the use of house arrests and executions, concentration camps, house demolitions, the exiling of leaders and the harassment and dissolution of Palestinian institutions. Just as British laws from the Mandate still serve the Zionist State, so do the brutal methods pioneered by the British.

Episode two focuses on the Palestinian resistance and revolution from 1936 to 1939. This is a part of the tale which gives lie to Zionist clams of  ’a land without people’; and claims that a Palestinian nation did not exist. It also highlights the weakness and limitations of the Palestinian and Arab official leaders. Their failings were to be an important aid to the Zionist take-over in 1948. The other was the development of the Zionist military forces, which were happy to use actions now loudly condemned as ‘terrorism’ by Israel.

Episode three deals with the year of Al Nakba itself, 1948. This is full of scenes of violence and the stream of disposed Palestinians. With film and commentary it presents the actual events rather than the myths which have become commonplace. There is the United Nations, where the USA and President Truman, pressurize and buy a majority for the partition of Palestine. A vote that contravenes the UN Charter. Then there is the British State and Military. Shamefully, the Labour Government continues the aiding and abetting of the theft of Palestinian lands by the Zionists. Meanwhile the British military sits passively by whilst the Zionist start their takeover: the only British contribution is to prevent any intervention by the Arab States. There are the heroic Palestinian fighters, outnumbered, outgunned and with poor leadership at the top: in Jaffa the resistance was led by a woman fighter. Then there are the Zionists, about 40,00 in number and well armed, partly by contributions from around the world. Both Palestinian and Israeli historians argue how the plan to ‘ethnically cleanse’ the land of Palestinians was prepared in advance and ruthlessly implemented. The implementation included atrocities, massacres and the killing of women and children: all designed to drive the Palestinians from their land. Finally there are the Arab armies, poorly led and disunited. The best organised army, that of Jordan, was led by a British Officer, and the Jordanian Government was bought off by the effective acquisition of the West Bank. This narrative is filled out by the voices of the surviving refugees who still hunger for their land. It is a sad and disconcerting tale, but essential viewing for an understanding of contemporary Palestine and the Middle East.

Episode 4, the final chapter, follows on from 1948 and briefly travels to the present-day, [2008]. The years immediately following Al Nakba saw the Palestinians sold out by the Arab states and by the UN. The film addresses the murder of the UN representative Count Bernadotte by the Stern Gang: then conveniently swept under the carpet. And there is a self-serving interview from the time with Ralph Bunce. The film emphasises how the Zionist project for a ‘Greater Israel’ has been pursued over the years. There is not enough time for either the Suez war or the several invasions of Lebanon. But the key year of 1967 is addressed. And the film comes up to the near present when five to six million Palestinians are in exile, in Gaza, the West Bank, in refugee camps and around the world.  In the final sequences there are telling comments from both Palestinian and Israeli voices. One voice points out how in 1948 the Palestinians were misled by the feudal landowners now by the bourgeoisie. Several point out how the Zionist drive continues, in the West Bank and even more brutally against Gaza. And whilst some voices wonder if the dream of return will ever be achieved another points out that ‘Israel will not be around for ever.’

This last point is important. The myths perpetuated around Al Nakba have, to a degree, been dispelled. The current violence by the Israeli state against Palestinians could well be the paroxysms of a state that sees it dominance slipping away. As the US superpower declines one doubts that any other protector will emerge. Even so the struggle remains long and hard. To paraphrase a much quoted wrier Clausewitz, ‘Israeli policy is the continuation of Al Nakba by other means’.

Rawan Damen has added an impressive range of commentators, including both Palestinian and Israeli historians, and ordinary Palestinians including refugees from Al-Nakba. This and the impressive array of actual film from the period really create its effect. There has been excellent research to retrieve film that has not been seen for a long time, including material in the British Archives. This is both an important documentary film and contribution to the struggles of the Palestinian people. Fortunately Al Jazeera tend to repeat their programme several times. Definitely tune into Al Jazeera –  the channel is worth watching for a different slant on the news.

Posted in Palestinian films | Tagged: | 3 Comments »