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The movie Black Panther has become a historic box office success and a cultural milestone shortly after its release on Feb. 16, telling the story of a super powered African king. Its three-day gross of $202 million was the fifth highest of all time and also set the record for biggest debut by an African American director, Ryan Coogler. And while the Black Panther character, which debuted in Marvel Comics in 1966, predated the creation of the Black Panther Party, the success of the movie shines a spotlight on these real life heroes of the civil rights movement.

According to The Guardian, advocacy groups have been gathering outside showings of Black Panther to share information on former Black Panther Party leader Sekou Odinga, who was released from prison in 2014 after 33 years in prison.

From The Guardian:

The Afrofuturist film has sparked renewed calls from attorneys, families and civil rights leaders for the release of more than a dozen incarcerated former members of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense (BPP), the radical group founded in 1966 in Oakland, California.

“Many are in the worst prisons and the worst conditions, and a lot of them are getting older and suffer from health problems,” said Odinga, who was convicted of attempted murder of police officers in the 1980s, a time when the US government was aggressively targeting black power movements with surveillance, violence, arrest and prosecution. “This is an opportunity to remind people of the real heroes of the Black Panthers and the conditions they live in today.”

Ericka Huggins, a former Black Panther leader from Oakland, told The Guardian that she hopes the movie will help spread the message that the Black Panther Party uplifted black people.

“She recounted when the former Black Panther Eddie Conway was released in 2014 after he challenged his conviction in the shooting death of an officer, for which he spent 44 years in prison: “He arrived on the outside of these walls with nothing but passion and love.”

In a press release, The Institute for Public Accuracy pointed out that the CIA, a consistent opponent of the Black Panther Party, was depicted as an ally in the Black Panther movie.

JARED BALL, imixwhatilike at gmail.com, @IMIXWHATILIKE
Ball is professor of communication studies, Institute for Urban Research at Morgan State University and author of I MiX What I Like: A MiXtape Manifesto and A Lie of Reinvention: Correcting Manning Marable’s Malcolm X. Malcolm X was assassinated on this date, February 21, in 1965 — see Institute for Public Accuracy news release featuring audio of some of his key statements.

Ball posted on his Facebook page about the term Black Panther: “We have among the most revolutionary international symbols of anti-imperialist, anti-colonialist, anti-capitalist politics re-presented to us in stunning beauty and style but packaged in the exact neoliberal politics, backed by the same Western-style support and assassination that destroyed the Black Panther Party, assassinated its members, imprisons to this day its survivors or hunts down with international bounties those who had the audacity — not to hope goddammit — but to organize and act accordingly. It isn’t that the film does this or that as much as that what it does is being read by many as having real meaning in this world and that makes critiquing it so important.

“Two quick examples: 1) Please compare the 1960 UN speech delivered by Patrice Lumumba to that of T’challa’s [in the film]. The former condemns the West, its colonialism, theft and abuse of Africa and Africans and declares all that at an end. His European audience was furious and moved to have him assassinated within a year whereas [in the film] the West’s representative — the CIA no less — smiles in full agreement and support having himself participated in the assassination of a true pan-African revolutionary (dismissed and demeaned as an angry lunatic blinded by his own imperial grandeur …)

“2) Please note how the film ends with the antidote developed precisely to crush a Black Panther revolution: a wealthy benefactor imposing ‘help’ in the form of neoliberal non-profit ‘reform.’ This is in lock-step with the state’s response to the BPP [Black Panther Party] and its programs and political education.”

See “CIA Reportedly Recruited Blacks For Surveillance of Panther Party” by Seymour Hersh in the New York Times in 1978, which states: “CIA officials have said repeatedly that the goal of the agency’s domestic spying program was to determine whether antiwar activists and black extremists were being financed and directed by Communist governments. Agency officials have declined to discuss the programs further.

“One longtime CIA operative with direct knowledge of the spying said, however, that there was an additional goal in the case of the Black Panthers living abroad: to ‘neutralize’ them; ‘to try and get them in trouble with local authorities wherever they could.’ Just how successful the CIA was in those alleged activities could not be determined.”

See piece in The Nation by Jeff Cohen and Jeff Gottlieb: “Was Fred Hampton Executed?” about the Illinois chairperson of the Black Panther Party, which states: “That the FBI supervised a nationwide effort to destroy the Black Panther Party is no longer seen as the paranoid rantings of leftists, but as a fact documented by the Staff Report of the Church committee. The report stated that the FBI’s COINTELPRO (Counter-Intelligence program) used ‘dangerous, degrading or blatantly unconstitutional techniques’ to disrupt Left and black organizations. It went on to liken the FBI’s harassment of Martin Luther King to the treatment usually afforded a Soviet agent.”