“I’ve experienced racism in this country in its most brutal form by people from all walks of life,” says Marlene Cummins , the woman at the center of Rachel Perkins ‘ documentary Black Panther Woman , which chronicles her time as part of the little known Australian chapter of the Black Panther Party.
The 52-minute feature, which premieres at the 2014 Sydney Film Festival this month, takes viewers back to 1971 Australia, when a group of young Aboriginal people fought for freedom in a style influenced by the politics and style of the Black Power movement in U.S.
Comprised of just 10 members, the short-lived, Brisbane-based Black Panther Party staged educational theatre shows, watched the police on what they called “pig patrols,” and were at the forefront of demonstrations, including the Aboriginal Tent Embassy.
However Black Panther Woman delves deeper than the party’s external struggles in Australia. It also explores the abuse suffered by women in the party, not unlike some of their sisters in America.
“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 spiraled 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.”
Attempting to heal herself and her ongoing battle with addiction, Marlene is breaking a 40-year silence in Black Panther Woman , which is five years in the making.
The film gives Marlene a chance to “add her voice to those calling for a halt to the abuse of black women from within their own communities.”
Though Black Panther Woman ‘s world premiere at the Sydney Film Festival on June 12, 2014 is sold out, we look forward to sharing any further screening dates when they are released.