Melvin Van Peebles, Author Thunder's Mouth Press $10.95 (230p) ISBN 978-1-56025-096-8
Writer, director, actor and singer (he wrote, directed and starred in Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song), Van Peebles has now written an engrossing novel about the early days of the Black Panther movement in '67 and '68. Although the novel's protagonist, Judge, is fictional, many of the other characters are not, including Huey Newton, Bobby Seale, Eldridge Cleaver and Herbert Hoover. The movement is portrayed as fulfilling a community need. It did not, however, fulfill any government needs and was quickly targeted for infiltration by the FBI and by local police as well. Judge, who is assigned by Newton to work as a double agent, is a useful device. He enables Van Peebles to describe black aspirations, and also white fears as embodied by Brimmer, the Oakland police inspector ordered by the FBI to infiltrate and crush the Panthers. Brimmer has to struggle with his superiors, who believe the Panthers must be communists; with Judge; and with his own prejudices. Inserted to rough out the novel, fictional interviews on the movement's origins with witnesses, participants, supporters and critics offer insights into the origins of the Panthers' mainstream image. Van Peebles clearly had an eye on current events: In his telling, a culture of police brutality was the powder keg, and a hit-and-run similar to the accident that led to the recent Crown Heights riots in New York City was the spark that ignited the Panthers. And though he may not have intended it, Panther does remind readers of what society can lose if it returns to the days of Cointelpro. 50,000 first printing. (June)
Reviewed on: 05/01/1995
Release date: 05/01/1995
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