Friday, March 13, 2009

When Bad Movies Happen To Good Casts: Panther

[Editor's Note: I usually write editions of WBMHTGC myself, but this time, my homegirl Ciara is pinch-hitting. I gotta admit, this movie was pretty darn awful, but I only saw it once. CiCi just caught it last week.]

Films about the martyrs in Black History rub me the wrong way repeatedly. I wasn’t really a fan of Angela Bassett’s portrayal of Rosa Parks and I can’t even remember who did the King movie. I even had gripes with Spike’s self-serving interpretation of Alex Haley’s Autobiography of Malcolm X. Most of the time, I find these films to be grossly exaggerated and frankly, terrible.

So when I heard of Marvin Van Peebles film interpretation of his father’s, Melvin, novel Panther, I was willing to give a look. Not because I thought it carried some potential but rather that it hit close to home. My father was a college student in Philadelphia during the late sixties. He dealt with the Black Panther Party on a frequent basis and even coined himself a “revolutionary”. Coincidentally, I happen to be writing an essay on his college years and as fate would have it, this movie came on HBO the other night.

A movie on the origins of the Panthers directed and written by the legendary Van Peebles clan should be pretty good, right? Oh, was I wrong. Way wrong.

Mario Van Peebles straight ethered himself with this movie. This is the same man that directed New Jack City. He couldn’t do any better with this? This was the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. Van Peebles did what Spike did with Malcolm X: he turned Bobby Seale and Huey P into caricatures. Yeah, the Panther Party carried assault rifles and yeah, they brandished that fist but what people fail to realize is that they saved neighborhoods across the country with their free breakfast programs, health clinics, after-school programs and expansion into politics. I know they had beef with the “pigs”. I wanted something else.

This movie had SO much potential but like many other Black movies, it failed when it came to acting.

When I tell you that everyone was in the movie, I mean EVERYONE. It’s almost Roots-like how many Black actors played in Panther: Jenifer Lewis, Courtney B. Vance, Roger Guenveur Smith, Kadeem Hardison, , Chris Rock, Bokeem Woodbine (Jason’s Lyric), Tyrin Turner (Menace II Society), Kool Mo Dee, Bruhman from Martin, Bobby Brown (yes, Mr. Tenderoni), Chris Tucker. Even Angela reprises her role as Betty Shabazz for this. As random – and confusing – as this cast may appear to be, it had a good set of actors. Turner and Woodbine were up-and-comers in the game and you can’t go wrong with legends like Smith and Bassett. Still, the movie came up short. Good casts can’t escape horrible acting. It hasn’t too the best. I’m just mad that everybody took a hit with this.

Maybe I’m taking this movie too seriously. It’s a dramatic depiction of the Black Panther Party, so maybe it wasn’t meant to be a docu-drama in the purest sense of the word. But for a group so misunderstood as the Black Panther Party, this film did more harm than good to their mystique.

Question: Have you seen Panther? How do you feel about movies about historical Black figures and groups? Are they any good ones out there? Any bets on when the first Obama movie will come out?

Panther Movie Info [IMDB]

More From Ciara [TSMNS Blog]

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