Who's In It: Anthony Mackie, Kerry Washington, Jamie Hector, Wendell Pierce, Ron Simons, Tariq Trotter, Jamara Griffin, Amari Cheatom
The Basics: Former Black Panther Anthony Mackie (The Hurt Locker), returning home from prison--and maybe some time just drifting, it's not clear--to Philadelphia in 1976, finds that his estranged brother has sold the family home and that the neighborhood men who were part of the same revolutionary 1960s Black Power movement consider him a "snitch." He's perceived to have given information to the government that claimed the life of his "comrade." The dead Panther's wife, played by Kerri Washington, is now a defense attorney and, while still committed to revolutionary ideals, is mostly just trying to raise her fatherless child and adjust to a world where radicalism is on the decline. When Mackie crosses her path, their unfinished business necessarily has to find a way to play out.
What's The Deal: This is a great example of what good American independent filmmaking can be. It's confident but not quirky for attention's sake, it employs two famous faces to get itself seen but never lets them grandstand, it balances a complex story with deep character-building but never decides it has to fill in all the blanks for the audience. And most importantly it tackles a tough story, one that a large studio wouldn't touch, and never apologizes for going there. It's political but mostly personal and if you're watching closely you'll realize it's the kind of grand tragedy that plays out in normal lives, every day, all over the place. It's sorrowful and moving, not just a movie about raised fists.
Person To Watch: Tanya Hamilton, first time writer-director. It took her 10 years to get it made and, if we're lucky, she'll keep making them. Hopefully at a faster pace. To sum up her approach, it's better to let her speak. A quote from The Los Angeles Times back in January when this movie screened at The Sundance Film Festival: "There's a distinct lack of content specific to what it is to be a black American, the variations in that experience, what life is like for people who are ordinary. Those are the stories I want to tell."
Why It's Especially Timely: With all the idiotic Glenn Beck-style talk about a "New Black Panther" movement that seeks to overthrow the world, and the mislabeling of people--including the president--as radicals, Communists, socialists and whatnot, it's good to have people like Hamilton and her actors quietly spelling out the truth, delving into troubled history without shrieking and letting a calm, reflective approach have its time in public.
More Points For: Cool score by The Roots and great '70s period details that never feel reductive or silly. Even the afros. Ever noticed that it's always the fakey afro wigs that trip up these projects?