Representing Black Power: Handling a "Revolution" in the Age of Mass Media

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After attending a Black Panther Party press conference in 1967, a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle wrote, “If a Hollywood director were to choose them as stars of a movie melodrama of revolution, he would be accused of typecasting” (quoted in Moore 1971: 257). While this reporter quickly backed away from suggesting that there was anything suspicious about the Panthers’ media-friendly tactics—saying that party founders Bobby Seale and Huey Newton “are not actors and this is not Hollywood”—others were not so politic. Drama critic Robert Brustein, for example, wrote that the party’s press conferences and photo-ops suggest that their “actions and rhetoric are an extension of theatricality, and proceed through the impulse to impersonation” (Brustein 1970: 14). Even the party’s alleged murder of a police informant, he continued, “bore sufficient similarities to the plot of a recent movie … to make one suspect that life was imitating art.” By the early 1970s, even those affiliated with the Black Power and antiwar movements had begun to wonder if the Panthers might have mistaken pictures of sensationalized confrontations for “revolution.”


Media and Revolt: Strategies and Performances from the 1960s to the Present is volume 11 of the Protest, Culture, & Society series.