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Beyoncé, Black Panthers in the ‘Bluff

February 16, 2016

How many of you watched the Superbowl halftime show last weekend?

A lot of you, I imagine. (I missed it live, but there’s YouTube.)

How many of you got involved in social media discussions about Beyoncé’s performance and references to the Black Panthers?

Probably at least a few of you. (I heard some oblique references, but I’d missed the show, so I missed the kerfuffle.) The New York Times has even created a “student question” page about the issue. To quote the main question from the page:

Do you tend to agree more with people like Melina Abdullah, a Black Lives Matter activist and leader in California, who said it’s wonderful that artists like Beyoncé “are willing to raise social consciousness and use their artistry to advance social justice”?

Or are you more sympathetic to the viewpoint of the former New York City mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, who said, “I thought it was really outrageous that she used it as a platform to attack police officers who are the people who protect her and protect us, and keep us alive.”


How many of you could comfortably say you know about the history of the Black Panthers, and how this social movement is relevant today?

Wow. If you can say this, mad props to you, friend. (I don’t count myself among the so educated. I think I saw a reference to the movement in a subplot of a movie I’ve seen in the last year or so, but that’s about it.)

Well, PREPARE TO BE EDUCATED with a very opportune moment, folks – the upcoming installment of the PBS Independent Lens series “Indie Lens Pop-Up”, this Thursday, February 18, 7:30 p.m., at the Midwest Theater, features the documentary film “The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution.”

black panthers vanguard

From the film’s website:

In the turbulent 1960s, change was coming to America and the fault lines could no longer be ignored — cities were burning, Vietnam was exploding, and disputes raged over equality and civil rights. A new revolutionary culture was emerging and it sought to drastically transform the system. The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense would, for a short time, put itself at the vanguard of that change.

The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution is the first feature-length documentary to explore the Black Panther Party, its significance to the broader American culture, its cultural and political awakening for black people, and the painful lessons wrought when a movement derails. Master documentarian Stanley Nelson goes straight to the source, weaving a treasure trove of rare archival footage with the diverse group of voices of the people who were there: police, FBI informants, journalists, white supporters and detractors, and Black Panthers who remained loyal to the party and those who left it.

After the film is screened, audience members will have an opportunity to discuss the film, the Superbowl halftime show controversy, and any other relevant thoughts that arise during the course of the evening.

This is quite an opportunity to think through the history of a race-based social movement, and how that movement may be relevant to today. Many thanks to the Midwest Theater and to Humanities Nebraska for enabling a discussion like this in our community.

Copyright 2016 by Katie Bradshaw

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