Pete O’Neal, the militantly outspoken founder of the Kansas City chapter of the Black Panther Party, was eating breakfast on October 30, 1969 when four A.T.F. agents broke down his door and arrested him for transporting a gun across state lines. One year later, he was convicted of the charge, which he has always insisted was trumped up as part of the federal government’s illegal COINTELPRO efforts — subsequently exposed — to imprison or kill Panther leaders. Before sentencing, O’Neal received warnings that he might not get out of prison alive, and decided to flee the country rather than submit to imprisonment.
A Panther in Africa is both heartening and heart-wrenching in its exploration of what life has held for O’Neal in the 30 years since he fled America. Still considered a criminal fugitive by the United States government, O’Neal continues to fight his conviction, refusing any deal that falls short of vindication. At the same time, while able to reflect on the excesses of 1960s radicals and his own past as a street hustler, O’Neal remains unapologetic about his Panther past. Even as he has worked to build a new and socially constructive life in Tanzania, O’Neal remains very much the man shaped by his youthful struggles — and very much an American.
- Aaron MatthewsProducer/Director