M-M-M-Mookie, M-M-M-Malcolm, M-M-M-Martin… Real quick what film is this from? Why is it significant? When I think of Spike Lee films there is a character in every film who captures the essence of the director’s direction and statements in performances that may be big or small. I honestly never remember the actor’s name. I just remind people of the character in Do The Right Thing who attempts to sell portraits of Malcolm and Martin while stuttering their names. Immediately everyone I speak with responds, “Was he in ‘Get On The Bus’ also? I get excited and say yes, yes, yes; and then we both sit there and ponder, “damn, what’s his name?” His name is Roger Guenveur Smith.
While Smith has generally played roles that were important to films, he has never really stood front and center in any of the major film releases or shows I have seen. Although I feel that I have seen him in a number of television and film roles, and he always leaves an impression on me, this film, A Huey P Newton Story introduces me to a charismatic, manic, intimidating, darkly comedic and distant actor who appeared to capture the nuances and movements of the popular, yet misunderstood Huey P. Newton.
A Huey P. Newton Story is a one man play written and performed by Smith. The film was recorded at the Joseph Papp Public Theater which creates a confined, dark space full of shadows and mystery. Smith sits in a chair in the middle of the stage and channels the Minister of Defense in an 88 minute performance storm. As he Newton chain smokes and discusses his life, images are displayed around the theater of scenes from the Black Panther movement. These images are timed in perfect coordination with the quirky tone set by Smith who seems to be speaking in a disoriented manner which leads me to think that this is possibly a drug addicted Huey speaking at the end of his life.
While the play is deeply rooted in fact and history, Smith utilizes phrases from current events and Hip-Hop that Huey would not have possibly known. These allusions seem apt particularly the ending refrain of the play, “Birthdays was the worst days, now we sip champagne when we thirstay.” A line from The Notorious B.I.G, who ironically enough was also gunned down.
This is a film that is definitely worth your time. While much of the history of the Panthers is shown this is truly a performance that captures the conflict that is always prevalent when discussing the Panthers.
I peeped it on Netflix, you can read more here.
Written and Performed by Roger Guenveur Smith
Directed by Spike Lee
P.S. Oh, why is the character in Do The Right Thing important? His attempt at selling the picture of Malcolm & Martin can be considered an attempt at showing that these two men were not of a different state of being and mind. These two men using different approaches wanted the same thing. The film Do The Right Thing utilizes racial tension to state the same thing. The problem is that people are in a perpetual state of stuttering. We can never really say what we mean, when we are supposed to.