Set to make its New York premiere at a festival that I co-curate – the New Voices in Black Cinema Festival, at BAMcinématek in Brooklyn, NY – is “Black Panther Woman” – director Rachel Perkins’ documentary on the little known Brisbane chapter of the Black Panther Party, which was directly inspired by the American Black Panthers.
According to director Rachel Perkins, what began as a straightforward story, recounting the Black Panther Party in Australia, slowly revealed itself as something more. The tensions around the movement and her personal life tightened around Marlene, and finally led to the break up of her relationship with the party’s leader. Marlene filled the vacuum with alcohol and quickly spiralled into a cycle of addiction that left her vulnerable on the streets. Her vulnerability and her belief in the movement made her a target for black men in power. Marlene recalls the incident of her rape, by two Indigenous leaders, after which she made the difficult decision to stay silent. Dedicated to the cause, and distrustful of police, she, like other Aboriginal women facing abuse, chose to stay silent to protect the movement from criticism.
Forty years later, and still struggling with addiction, she looks back on her involvement in the Aboriginal protest movement from her housing commission apartment in the community of Redfern. In the film, she journeys to New York to an international gathering of Black Panthers – a journey that takes her back in time, to her love affair, her time with the Panthers, and the question of the place of women in the movement.
Now a grandmother and no longer afraid, she speaks out about her experiences, breaking a forty year silence, to tell the story of her abuse in the Australian Black protest movement, to overcome her demons today.
5 years in the making, the film, “Black Panther Woman,” presents her attempt to heal herself and her ongoing battle with addiction, and to add her voice to those calling for a halt to the abuse of black women from within their own community.
Director Rachel Perkins, who is an Australian of Aboriginal heritage, founded Australia’s premier Indigenous production company, Blackfella Films in 1992, and has contributed extensively to the development of Indigenous filmmakers in Australia and, more broadly, to the Australian film and television industry.
She says that, this film, like all the films she’s worked on to date, is intended for an Aboriginal audience first, adding that the premise of it is, of course, relevant for all: “To have a fair and just society, we must have leadership with integrity,” she states.
Marlene Cummins is currently a blues singer/songwriter in Australia, after studying as a blues saxophonist and songwriter at the Berklee College of Music in Boston in the mid-1990’s. In addition to her musical talent, she has been a regular broadcaster on Koori Radio for years, with her renowned blues show, “Marloo’s Blues.”
If you’re in New York City this weekend, do yourself a favor and go see the film at the New Voices in Black Cinema Festival, which runs from Mar 26-Mar 29, 2015. “Black Panther Woman” will screen on Sunday, March 29, 2015 9:30pm. It’s only about an hour long, so while it’s a later start, you’ll be out of there by 10:30, newly nourished and ready to take on the work week the next day!
To buy tickets, visit http://www.bam.org/film/2015/black-panther-woman.
Check out a short clip below: