We all know that the civil rights upheavals of the 1960s and 70s were closely mirrored by equally important movements demanding social justice for the country’s diverse Latino communities. On the West Coast, César Chávez and the UFW united the civil rights struggle with the union cause for migrant farmworkers at the same time that MLK was marching on Selma. Then, only a few years later, a generation of young, urban Boricuas out of Chicago and New York took a page from the Black Panthers’ book and founded the radical Young Lords Organization.
While the Young Lords vocally advocated for the liberation of Puerto Rico from American colonial rule, the two organizations shared the fundamental goals of liberation for oppressed peoples and community protection. But the connections weren’t merely incidental: the Young Lords collaborated extensively with the Oakland and Chicago branches of the Black Panthers and adopted many of their organizing strategies.
So it’s not surprising that an upcoming documentary about the rise and fall of the Black Panther Party features none other than the ex-Deputy Chairman for the N.Y. Chapter of the Young Lords, Afro-Boricua activist Felipe Luciano.
Shot and structured as a straightforward historical primer, director Stanley Nelson’s The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution couldn’t have come out at a more historically relevant time, and Luciano’s contribution drives home the connection. Indeed, in a new clip from Nelson’s two-hour documentary epic, we see the 68-year-old Brooklyn native speaking truth to power as he rails against the oppressive nature of local police forces, explaining the Black Panthers’ violent posture as a basic human reaction to abuse and oppression.
True to his radical Nuyorican roots, the poet and journalist lays out his deep truths with an informal, profanity-laden wisdom that functions as a verbal middle finger to the system, without sacrificing an ounce of sophistication. Now, as the Black Lives Matter movement and even the New Black Panthers grow increasingly visible in the national conversation, Luciano’s presence in this doc raises an important issue. With Black America bracing for a new civil rights struggle, it’s about time Latinos step up to support our brothers and sisters, while simultaneously calling attention to our own issues with police brutality.
The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution opens in New York on September 2, 2015, with other cities to follow.