‘A Huey P Newton Story’, the movie based on the story of Huey P Newton who was a freedom fighter and the co-founder of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense in Oakland in 1960s. He was the Minister of Defense in the party and he made a Ten Point Plan based on the demand for basic civil rights and made it public in 1966. The movie is based on hyper-energetic, magnetic, faltering and chain-smoking Newton and Robert Guenveur Smith has played the role of Newton in this movie. Smith is the only person on the stage dressed in black and most of the time sitting on a single wooden chair.
He is seen reading poetry, asserting his philosophies, worrying about the potential and complaining about the way everything turned out. The movie was shot in front of the live audience and was completed in single night improvisation. There are some archival footage and some sound effects to support the plot of the story. Like when Newton writes the Ten Point Plan you can hear sound of a typewriter. The movie is directed by Spike Lee and is quite disturbing and provocative at times. It also capture’s Newton’s “inner mind” and jazz saxophonist Branford Marsails provides olo music for the project.
Newton was an extraordinary man and lot of energy and resources was needed to portray him on stage. There are some points in the movie where Smith pushes away the microphone and remains silent and it seems he is recollecting his energies. As Newton was a chain smoker Smith also had to smoke a lot while performing on stage. Smith quotes the saying of Newton, “Any time a black man in America stands up against the slave mentality, he’s going to scare a lot of white people and some black people, too. ”
Although the movie depends quite a lot on the clips and the soundtracks it is one man show and that too in front of live audience which in itself is a very difficult task. The chain smoking cigarettes are referred as props for Newton’s anger and similes. Smith is seen shaking and trembling with anxiety and he had to deliver speeches in the same hypocritical manner. The music, clothing and art all had to resemble and have an image of Newton’s surroundings. However Smith resembles Newton somewhat physically and has done justice to the character up to a large extent.
The movie shows a man in prison with only one chair to sit on and the stage setting gives an impression of a room in prison. The whole movie is one-man show where the actor talks about everything and the whole story is depicted. In the beginning Newton is shown here proud with military pronouncement like a warrior and then shifting towards poetry and reading poetic recollection of a brother and then recollecting memories of his father who had shifted to California and had to work three jobs in order to support his seven children.
Here, every aspect of Newton’s life is epicted because he was not only a freedom fighter but also a human being with all normal feelings and similarly concerned with his family and its welfare. He also recalls his own life and how he turned from burglar to a law student but there is wit and regret in his tone. After joining the revolutionary career he faces lot of problems and he has only one aim that is to get basic rights to his community. Smith also reveals a part of Newton’s character where he is hurt because he cannot dance and he uses philosophical questions to get girls’ phone numbers.
He is shown fascinated with “rap” and seems to be connected with the current generation style too. Then coming back to philosophy of success and failure he says that a leader most of the time disappoints his followers and leaves nothing behind except contempt. He chooses riffs of songs and tells the audience about the fortune of his people. At the end of the performance, the audience is taken to a scene where a young man on the mountainside plays guitar and makes the sun come up. Newton is aware of the fact that he did not make the sun come up for himself.
Lee’s direction and Smith’s performance make the audience realize that a human spirit can rise while he waits and watches his own songs. ‘A Huey P Newton Story’ is a powerful plodding film based on one-man stage show by Roger Guenveur Smith and directed by Spike Lee and was premiered on June 18 on Black Starz. Smith is a veteran actor and has very warmly and effectively portrayed Newton with all his talent and imaginative hands. He is dressed in a simple way with black shirt, black pant and shoes and is seen mostly sitting on a single chair kept on the stage.
The set resembles the interior of Newton’s Oakland high-rise apartment where he resided in the last few years of his life. He is seen ruminating his life and bouncing his right leg and chain smoking. The presentation of Smith is so noteworthy that he looks as if on the stage at one moment and immediately on the other he seems to be in prison. In this movie Smith uses humor and wit and portrays Newton as a normal guy who has desires like a normal human being too.
Newton is the youngest among seven children and hates being teased as “Baby Huey”, becomes a Black Panther and then he is elated to the fact where he argues for the right to housing, jobs etc. for people. It is felt that Newton is portrayed with mostly positive aspects of his character along with the humanity that is painful and complex. No emphasis is given on Newton who was alleged as a drug user.
However the bare stage seems to be monotonous in spite of Smith’s extraordinary performance and so the director uses historic footage and photographs to give a break from the monotonous stage and a single man’s dialogues. 1960 saw quite a lot of political nd social change and also fight for these and so this gives a perfect ground for veteran artists to show their talent. The stories of this time have its contemporary significance and Smith here has tried to take advantage of the same and joined hands with Lee for the purpose. It is for sure that the way Smith and Lee tried to depict the story is completely different from the usual trend of movie making. Newton otherwise would have been the “icon” for the purpose for which he lived his short life but here he is shown with all the qualities and desires of a normal human being.
Courtney from Study Moose
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