6 Movies About the Real Black Panthers to Watch After 'Black Panther'

Spoiler alert: Marvel's 'Black Panther' has nothing to do with the Black Panther Party. If you're down with the cause, check these movies out instead.

Members of the Black Panther party demonstrate outside the Criminal Courts Building

Image via Getty/Jack Manning

Members of the Black Panther party demonstrate outside the Criminal Courts Building

Contrary to the belief of some idiots on social media, Marvel's Black Panther has nothing to do with the Black Panther Party. The first appearance of the Black Panther character in a comic book was in July of 1966, roughly five months before Bobby Seale and Huey Newton founded the Black Panther Party for Self Defense. That doesn't mean Marvel's Black Panther character and the Black Panther Party didn't hold some of the same beliefs; hell, T'Challa has a history of kicking white supremacist ass. Still, let's get this straight: what Ryan Coogler and company are bringing to the silver screen with Black Panther isn't a reimagining of the Black Panther Party.

That said, there have been a number of films and documentaries that have examined what the Black Panther Party stood for during their run, which went from the fall of 1966 to some time in 1982. Their movement still lives on, but their impact on today's society isn't as massive as it was in their heyday. For those who can't wait to see Black Panther but also want to learn more about the Black Panther Party (as one should do, especially during Black History Month), here's a look at some of greatest stories from the Black Panther Party that were told on the silver screen.

The Murder of Fred Hampton

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Year: 1971

Star(s): Fred Hampton

How to watch: You can purchase the DVD via Facets.

What started out as a documentary on Fred Hampton and the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party turned into an examination of his tragic murder. For those who were unaware, Hampton emerged as one of the most important voices in the Civil Rights movement in America; that prompted a pair of filmmakers to start documenting his life for what they felt would be a portrait of Hampton in action. After his untimely death in December of 1969, the documentary shifted into an investigation of the killing. For fans of the true crime podcasts and series of today, you can look to The Murder of Fred Hampton as a true look at what can happen when independent media is allowed to thrive.


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Year: 1995

Star(s): Kadeem Hardison, Bokeem Woodbine, Courtney B. Vance

How to watch: This isn't really streaming anywhere (legally), so your best bet might be to cop the DVD on eBay.

This 1995 film was directed by Mario Van Peebles and written by his father, the iconic Melvin Van Peebles, based on the elder Van Peebles' novel of the same name. It had a daunting task: take the general timeline of the Black Panther Party and condense it into a two-hour film. Surprisingly, the film is full of more #FACTS than you'd expect, narrating the meteoric rise and tremendous fall of the Party.

The film leaned heavily on star power; with Kadeem Hardison (who was mostly known as playing Dwayne Wayne in A Different World) doing a lot of heavy lifting. There's also loads of support from everyone from Chris Rock and Tyrin Turner (of Menace II Society fame) to Angela Bassett, who portrayed Betty Shabazz in this, after playing Shabazz in Spike Lee's 1992 Malcolm X . It might not be your favorite, but it's one of the only dramatic films to tackle a feat like this.

A Huey P. Newton Story

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Year: 2001

Star(s): Roger Guenveur Smith

How to watch: Your best bet is to cop this on DVD via Amazon.

This Spike Lee-directed one-man stage show finds Roger Guenveur Smith (who has been in a litany of Spike Lee films) embodying Black Panther Party co-founder Huey P. Newton in a captivating performance. With little more than cigarettes, a chair, and a microphone, Smith (who also wrote the show) brings Newton's words to life for those of us who never were able to experience him in the flesh.

This took years to shape; Smith initially got the idea in 1989,and brought it to the stage in 1996 before Spike Lee filmed this adaptation (in collaboration with PBS and BLACK STARZ!). It's won a number of awards, including two NAACP Image Awards—one for the performance and one for the production on the whole.

Night Catches Us

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Year: 2010

Star(s): Kerry Washington, Anthony Mackie, Jamie Hector

How to watch: You can find this on Amazon.

Years before Anthony Mackie became 2Pac and Falcon, he played Marcus, a former Black Panther, in 2010's Night Catches Us. Taking place in Philadelphia, this film found Marcus trying to find his way after being cast out of Panther circles for being perceived to be the reason another Panther was killed by the police. Kerry Washington is the widow of the Panther who was murdered, and strikes up an intriguing relationship with Marcus, who is being shunned by everyone from old friends like DoRight (Hector) to his Muslim brother (who is played by Black Thought from The Roots). While most films will focus on the Panthers, Night Catches Us takes an honest look at the effects of the Party on smaller pockets of America.

The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975

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Year: 2011

Star(s):  Stokely Carmichael, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Eldridge Cleaver, Bobby Seale, Huey P. Newton, Emile de Antonio, Angela Davis

How to watch: This is streaming on Netflix.

The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 is made up of found footage from a group of Swedish journalists who traveled to America during the Black Power movement to document a scene that America, unsurprisingly, wanted to keep secret. Black Panther Party co-founders Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton were included, giving voice to their portion of the movement. What makes this documentary sing is that, once this footage was found—30 years after it was shot—Questlove and others were allowed to score the film, as well as provide voice commentaries, really highlighting the impact of this group of black activists.

The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution

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Year: 2015

Star(s): n/a

How to watch: You can stream this on Netflix.

In one of the most important looks back at the Black Panther Party, Vanguard of the Revolution utilizes a mixture of archival footage and new interviews of surviving members of the Party, along with FBI agents, to break down the history of this impactful movement. One of the keys to making this doc so important is the fact that a lot of the footage has never been broadcast before. With issues of racism and police brutality still at the forefront of the national conversation, this is a piece that shows that the Panthers' message is just as relevant today it was back in the 1960s.

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