Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

TV REVIEW : 'Passin": A Romantic Look at the Panthers

July 19, 1994|ROBERT KOEHLER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Black Panther Party, whose presence has been felt far longer than the organization's actual active life, tends to stir up deep, almost irrational passions in America's far political wings. While both sides have railed for and against the Panthers, a reasoned, objective history of the group's rise and fall has yet to be written. And we're no closer to the unvarnished truth with Peter Miller's and John Valadez's "Passin' It On," on PBS' "P.O.V." series tonight.

Indeed, "Passin' It On" appears to be the left's latest media effort to rile up the right. Miller's and Valadez's film is a model of agit-prop, and the right-wing Center for the Study of Popular Culture has fired back, labeling the film a "promotional" piece for the film's subject and New York Panther organizer, Dhoruba Bin Wahad.

It is indeed that, and Miller and Valadez indeed show (sometimes laboriously) that Wahad was the likely object of a rushed police attempt to nail the leading Panther spokespersons on less-than-solid evidence of conspiracy to murder.

*

That a New York jury acquitted the so-called "Panther 21" in a 1971 conspiracy trial, and that the courts eventually overturned Wahad's conviction (for the murder of two New York City police officers) bolsters this film's claims that the Panthers were unjustly targeted for prosecution.

But "Passin' It On" not only obviously turns Wahad into a martyr figure, it also romanticizes the Panthers. Panther veteran Jamal Joseph explains that the group provided free meals and health care along with political education for ghetto youth. In fact, the Panthers, as the angry children of a civil rights movement devastated by the Martin Luther King Jr. assassination, adapted Mao Zedong's tactics of community organizing and recruitment for the eventual armed struggle--but you won't hear that here. "Passin' It On" also fails to explore the group's ethic of "self-defense," which justified armed struggle against what was perceived to be the occupying force of the police in the ghetto. In 1994, the ethic echoes the pleas of a National Rifle Assn. supporter or neo-Nazi militias who also claim they are victims of government spies and counterintelligence.

* "Passin' It On" airs at 10 tonight on KCET-TV Channel 28.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|