Watch this: Waltz, the Hour and Borderline County review – Ella Baker’s feminist legacy

Who: Waltz, the Hour and Borderline County resident Tom Lang.

Where: Dusty Street in Winkelman, Montana, where the Munch family (Joe Cooper, Brenda Madden, Ron James, Sarah Gilbert) live.

What: Waltz, a documentary about Ella Baker, who founded the Black Panther party.

All about Ella Baker

Every segment is different, each with a different performance. Viewers will be encouraged to do the same through a series of news clips from the Black Panthers, through which everyone can learn new ways to frame issues around racism, exploitation and so on.

Why we love it: Ella Baker wanted to know “what are the laws of nature”, and explore how they can lead to human suffering. She ultimately instigated and directed in cooperation with her family the Writers’ Guild of America, desegregating Santa Monica and forcing schools to change their textbooks.

The film is a portrait of a ferocious civil rights fighter, who was the first Afro-American activist to earn a doctorate from UCLA. She was also a fashion icon (née Frances Hill), not just a freedom fighter and equal rights advocate but also a showgirl, researcher and singer.

Filmmaker Mike Mason says Ella Baker “was more than a labour and political advocate”. He feels “inclusion and equal rights were never really the center of her campaign”, and that she should be seen in a wider context.

“She was completely unapologetic for who she was,” Mason adds. “She was unapologetic for the Black Panthers.”

Mason says to take away one lesson: “You cannot fight power – you have to work in a system, change a system and challenge it from within.”

Why you should see it: Ella Baker’s actions won her a first class undergraduate degree at UCLA, and a part-time position as a staff researcher for renowned sociologist James Baldwin. Yet even so, she went on to lead the Black Panthers as well as work as a researcher for Reverend J Edgar Hoover’s FBI. Mason thinks that being in the organisations allowed her to ask questions, “because she was at the very beginning of creating a more just nation”.

He also thinks that her “duel” with the FBI director taught her to be a civil rights leader and effective worker. “She refused to accept it,” Mason says.

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