From Black Panthers (1968), dir. Agnes Varda (image courtesy Criterion Collection)

The new film Judas and the Black Messiah tells the story of how charismatic young Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton was betrayed by an FBI informant and killed in a police raid. If you want to learn more about Hampton and the Black Panthers, who have often been unjustly maligned in US media, then check out some of these films.

Black Panthers (1968)

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One of the works Agnès Varda made during her time in California, this documentary is one of the rare films made by an outsider to portray the Panthers in a positive light. In a remarkably short running time, it manages to touch on a whole host of topics, from protests over Huey P. Newton’s arrest to the Panthers’ social programs to discussions of the role of women within the movement. It carries Varda’s trademark humanism and warmth.

On Criterion Channel.

The Murder of Fred Hampton (1971)

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Before COINTELPRO and the full extent of the US government’s efforts to silence dissidents came to light, activists had to struggle to have their side of each story taken seriously. While the Chicago Police Department claimed that Hampton and his comrades were plotting violence and had fired first on their officers, the Panthers’ meticulous investigation of the fatal night, documented by director Howard Alk in this film, led them to assert that the police raid was in fact an assassination. They would ultimately be proven correct.

On Vimeo.

The Black Power Mixtape 1967–1975 (2011)

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In the ’60s and ’70s, a group of Swedish journalists extensively documented the racial situation in the US, interviewing Black Panthers as part of their travels. Their footage was then forgotten for decades in storage, before it was rediscovered and director Göran Olsson turned it into this film. A wonderful work of archival restoration, this documentary reconstructs the era entirely with these primary materials.

On various platforms.

Dan Schindel is a freelance writer and copy editor living in Brooklyn, and a former associate editor at Hyperallergic. His portfolio and links are here.

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