[sixties-l] Black Panther lives again in a fiery portrayal

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: Fri Jun 29 2001 - 15:54:21 EDT

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    Date: Sun, 24 Jun 2001 15:02:24 -0500 (CDT)
    From: media@ccsi.com
    Subject: [generalnews] One-man wonder: Black Panther lives again in a fiery

    One-man wonder: Black Panther lives again in a fiery portrayal

    By CHRIS VOGNAR / The Dallas Morning News

    The words come impossibly fast and lucid, pouring out in a nasal,
    Louisiana-tinged rant. He chain-smokes as if his life depended on it, knee
    bouncing up and down, head bobbing back and forth in the billowing clouds.

    Angry, playful, broken, brave, Roger Guenveur Smith's Huey P. Newton is a
    marvel of stagecraft and poetic interpretation that wowed theater audiences
    as a one-man touring production.

    Now, Mr. Smith's fever-pitch portrayal of the Black Panthers co-founder has
    reached the screen, albeit the small one. Directed by frequent collaborator
    Spike Lee, A Huey P. Newton Story marks a feather in the cap of the
    relatively young Black Starz! channel, formerly BET Movies. (It also will
    air later this year on PBS.)

    It's a dynamic, multi-layered portrayal of the complex and troubled Mr.
    Newton, who was brutally slain outside an Oakland crack house in 1989 at
    the age of 47.

    Philosopher, intellectual, criminal, leader: Mr. Newton was a walking
    contradiction a menace, a hero or both, depending on your point of view.
    He was adamant about the black man's right to bear arms in a society that
    preferred the civil rights movement or outright racism to militant
    activism. His programs helped feed poor children, but he pleaded no contest
    to embezzling $15,000 in state funding for a Panther-run school. He
    preached self-sufficiency, only to be undone by his weakness for crack
    cocaine. He earned a doctorate from the University of California even as he
    remained under FBI scrutiny.

    "I was curious when he was murdered, and I was rather embarrassed about my
    ignorance," says Mr. Smith by phone. "I had heard the news blurbs Huey
    arrested in barroom brawl, Huey earns Ph.D., Huey murdered in front of
    crack house. How do you connect those dots and try to flesh out the man
    behind the myth and create a human being who transcends headlines?"

    If you're Mr. Smith, you study Mr. Newton until you can become him. You
    sort through transcripts, audio and videotape. A master of the one-man
    performance his Frederick Douglass Now was also lauded onstage Mr.
    Smith's solo abilities are on par with those of another theatrical Smith,
    Anna Deavere.

    He consumes his subjects and makes them his own, interacting with and
    baiting his audience while in character, improvising on a dime. The fact
    that Mr. Smith looks remarkably like Mr. Newton only intensifies the show's
    lived-in feel.

    The task of capturing Mr. Newton's speech patterns presented a particular
    challenge though Mr. Newton could slow down from time to time, he was
    known to let the ideas fly.

    In his book This Side of Glory, Mr. Newton's fellow Panther and life-long
    friend David Hilliard remembers conversing with a crack-addled Huey: "On
    and on he'd ramble, from 6 in the evening to 6 the next morning, nonstop,
    all the time expecting me to sit there like a sounding board, never letting
    me get a word in edgewise."

    "It's almost like training for an athletic event," says Mr. Smith of
    capturing Mr. Newton's verbal flow. "It's a challenge, especially when
    you're smoking cigarettes as well."

    This time, he could at least count on some creative cinematic touches from
    Mr. Lee. Filmed with multiple cameras before a live audience, A Huey P.
    Newton Story uses blue-screen technology to incorporate documentary footage
    behind and in front of Mr. Smith rallies, marches and sound bites appear
    as if conjured by the man onstage. The multimedia touches help accentuate
    the show's myriad themes and harness the breakneck pace.

    But Mr. Smith never lets us forget that this is his show. A Huey P. Newton
    Story is a dangerously raw piece of work, fearless theater without a net.
    By the time Mr. Smith/Newton does his final riff on Macbeth and Black
    Orpheus, you feel as if you've witnessed a multiple out-of-body experience.

    A Huey P. Newton Story


    A Lee favorite
    You might not know the name, but you probably know the face. Roger Guenveur
    Smith has appeared in six Spike Lee films, joining such performers as
    Giancarlo Esposito, John Turturro and Thomas Jefferson Byrd as featured
    players in the director's informal troupe. Among Mr. Smith's highlights:
    Do the Right Thing (1989): In Mr. Lee's most seminal work, Mr. Smith played
    Smiley, a stuttering peddler of photos featuring Martin Luther King and
    Malcolm X (he also lights the match that burns Sal's Pizzeria to the
    ground). Mr. Smith created the role from scratch after Mr. Lee gave him the
    script and asked him to create a character.

    Get on the Bus (1996): Mr. Smith stood out in an ensemble that included
    Andre Braugher, Ossie Davis and Charles S. Dutton. He brought a sense of
    pathos and easy-going discipline to the role of a Los Angeles police
    officer joining an array of black men en route to the Million Man March.

    He Got Game (1998): Mr. Smith played a sage agent/hustler who offers advice
    (and advancement) to high school hoops god Jesus Shuttlesworth (played by
    Milwaukee Bucks guard Ray Allen).

    Mr. Smith also appeared in Mr. Lee's School Daze, Malcolm X and Summer of
    Sam. And he has been in several films not directed by Mr. Lee, including
    Final Destination and Deep Cover.

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