The People v. Huey P. Newton

This documentary focuses on the sensationalized murder trial of Black Panther Party co-founder Huey Newton in the volatile summer of 1968. Newton was accused of killing an Oakland policeman and wounding another in an early morning shootout in October of 1967. Newton himself suffered a near-fatal abdominal wound. By the time of the trial, J. Edgar Hoover considered the Black Panthers the biggest internal threat to American security. Earlier that year, the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Senator Bobby Kennedy rocked a nation already bitterly divided over the Vietnam War. By the fall, it was a tinderbox waiting to explode.

At his trial, Newton and his maverick defense team defended the Panthers as a response to 400 years of racism and accused the deceased officer and the surviving policeman of abusive treatment, insisting Newton had only acted in self-defense. If the Newton jury came back with the widely expected death penalty verdict against the charismatic black revolutionary, national riots were anticipated. Instead, a system-changing defense revolutionized the rules of fair trial, and an unusually diverse jury headed by a pioneering black foreman delivered a shocking verdict that still reverberates today.

In production

All of the dynamics that were on display during the Huey Newton trial – anyone who thinks that you can disconnect from that history is just kidding themselves. We are absolutely living in the shadow of that history.
— Bryan Stevenson, Equal Justice Initiative

Lise Pearlman, Robert Richter

Consulting Producer/Cinematographer
Andy Abrahams Wilson