Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Stunningly Beautiful Partner in Radicalism


That's how the NY Times' Ginia Bellafante describes Kathleen Cleaver, former Black Panther and wife of Panther leader Eldridge, in her write up of the VH-1 doc series "Lords of the Revolution". 

The series of hour-long docs, set to coincide with the anniversary of Woodstock, is all about iconic 60s radicals and I confess to sharing in Bellafante's fatigue when it comes to cursory examinations of the era in which so much changed:
Though none of the subjects are musicians, the occasion is the 40th anniversary of Woodstock, even though it seems as if we haven’t stopped commemorating Woodstock since 1969. The choices the producers have made are hardly counterintuitive. “Lords of the Revolution,” begins with an examination of Muhammad Ali and reintroduces us to the delirium of the Black Panthers, Timothy Leary and Andy Warhol. The decision to include Cheech and Chong, who forged their celebrity as activists for High Times slackerdom, isn’t so much a surprise as it is unworthy of the larger effort.  
Word, Ginia. When I checked in on this series earlier in the week it was the hour on Cheech and Chong and I just kept on clicking. It seemed like something I'd seen before, even like something I'd seen on VH-1 before. I kind of feel the same about the hour that premieres tonight at 8pm on Timothy "Turn on, tune in, drop out" Leary. But this afternoon they reran the hour on the Black Panthers.

While it was just as surface a documentary as the others I enjoyed. I've never seen a doc on TV that discusses the history of the Black Panther movement and its various personalities. Of course, I'd heard of Huey Newton, Bobby Seale and Eldridge Cleaver before, but it was nice to get some context and to see them in action when they were beautiful and in their heyday.

I was especially struck by Kathleen Cleaver who looks like a Rihanna protoype with an afro and a gun. Intrigued, I looked her up afterwards. After learning more she's not any less compelling. A major member of the Black Panthers who attended a Quaker boarding school  and Barnard? Do go on.

Here's a clip that includes a little bit of Kathleen in action. Actually includes a lot of archival footage VH-1 used in their hour. Watch:

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