"Black Panther Party to Receive its Place in Silver Screen History"

by Chauncey Bailey, Oakland Tribune, approx. July 1994

OAKLAND — A number of motion pictures about the Black Panther Party are under consideration by Hollywood producers.

In June, film crews were here, the birthplace of the legendary Black Panthers, to get footage for "Panther."

Directed by Mario Van Peebles, and based on a screenplay by his father, Melvin Van Peebles, crews used locals as extras for exterior shots at the Alameda County Courthouse.

Other filming took lace in Sacramento at the Capitol and on the Bay Bridge. Scenic "entry" scenes in Oakland were also filmed.

"Panther," however, does not use any major ex-Panther leaders as consultants.

Fredricka Newton, widow of Panther co-founder Huey Newton, said she and David Hilliard, former Panther chief of staff, are working on another Black Panthers motion picture with Warner bros. and director John Singleton ("Boyz in the Hood" and "Poetic Justice.").

The script for this film is expected to be ready by November and will be based on information from Newton's estate and Hilliard's book, "This Side of Glory." Hilliard, now an executive with the Service Employees International Union Local 790, said the Warner Bros. project "would be a testament to the memory of Huey Newton."

Newton was shot to death Aug. 22, 1989, in West Oakland.

Another African-American director, Matty Rich ("Straight Out of Brooklyn" and "The Inkwell"), is considering a Panther project. Spike Lee is no longer considering a story, his spokesman said.

"If one (Black Panther) movie comes out first, the other projects will get dumped," said one executive for Paramount, who declined to use her name. "There's a certain romantic quality to the Panther versus the Establishment. But people here look at the dismal results from Spike Lee's 'Malcolm X' and figure black militants don't do well at the box office."

In the Van Peebles film, actor Kadeem Hardison, who played Dwayne Wayne of "A Different World," returns to Oakland as "Judge," a Vietnam veteran. He witnessed the rise of the Panthers, formed by Bobby Scale (portrayed by Courtney B. Vance) and Huey Newton (portrayed by Marcus Chong).

Judge's friend "Cy" (Tyrin Turner) introduces him to Newton and the Panther program changes Judge's views. After Huey becomes a friend, Judge is pressured by the FBI to become an informant and Judge raises the suspicions and animosity of fellow Panther "Tyrone" (Bokeem Woodbine).

In the film, an ensuing internal struggle is exacerbated by a booming supply of heroin available in Oakland neighborhoods. The flow of drugs is part of a plan by the FBI, along with organized crime, to "neutralize" the black community and its leaders, according to the film.

"Panther," produced by Working Title Films and Tribeca Films, will also film in Los Angeles and is scheduled for a release in February 1995 by Gramercy Pictures.

Melvin Van Peebles, who 1972 epic "Sweet Sweetback's Bad Ass Song," was roundly received on limited screens, has always been on the cutting edge.

In the late 1960s, Van Peebles was the first African American to work as a director on a Hollywood film ("Watermelon Man"), earning $50,000. But when he arrived at Columbia studios, someone handed him a lamp, figuring he was a janitor. After Van Peebles complained about feeling "lonesome," other ethnic minorities joined an all-white production crew.

©1994 Oakland Tribune

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