Black Panther Woman
Director: Rachel Perkins, Documentary, 53 min, Australia, 2014
What began as a straightforward story, recounting the Black Panther Party in Australia, slowly revealed
itself as something more. My friendship with Marlene Cummins goes back twenty years. But I never knew
the stories she held within her. The film began about five years ago when I offered to help Marlene prepare to pitch her idea for a documentary about the Black Panthers. We got together and she began to tell me her story.
Over a week, the stories unravelled from deep within her. I soon realised that Marlene had a very personal and
controversial story to tell if she had the courage to do so, and that I wanted to help her tell it.
It is a story that resonates with me. As a child I grew up surrounded by people in the Aboriginal rights
movement. My life’s work has been dedicated to telling the stories of my people through film. When I
realised that this story might turn a critical eye on leadership within the movement, I had to seriously
consider the repercussions and the risk that it would appear we were ‘bringing down the movement’. I
talked to my family and sought advice from Indigenous leaders along the way, notably Sam Watson and
Jenny Munro. They both felt that the Aboriginal movement was mature enough to apply the same critical
eye to itself that it applied to those it has struggled against.
So we began, choosing not to write a script, but to allow the film to evolve as an observational narrative,
threaded with Marlene’s history. Marlene had some key rules she wanted to follow. That the film should be
honest about her and who she was. That it would only be told by people who were intimately involved at
the time. That it would be her story and that she would not speak on behalf of anyone else. The outcome
is a very personal story, of Marlene’s experiences and of her survival. There are many more stories within
her life that could not be told within the time constraints of a one hour film. They are extraordinary and
made more so by Marlene’s positive attitude to making the best she can of her life. It will perhaps only be
told in the complexity and detail it deserves when Marlene publishes her autobiography.
This film, like all the films I have worked on to date, is intended for an Aboriginal audience first. But the
premise of the film is relevant for all. To have a fair and just society, we must have leadership with integrity.]
Courtesy of the Australian High Commission in South Africa
Name Black Panther Woman
Date Sun 20 Aug 15:30