Pete O’Neal profiled in ‘A Panther in Africa’
Former Black Panther’s exile in Tanzania
Published: Thursday, February 14, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 23:02
African American Studies Department of Merritt College on Feb. 8 showcased a documentary called “A Panther in Africa,” detailing the life of Pete O’Neal, a former Black Panther member who now lives in Tanzania with his wife and fellow activist, Charlotte O’Neal.
The film documents his past, including his contributions to the Civil Rights movement, and his current life in the East African country where he runs the United African Alliance Community Center (UAACC), helping both the locals and African-Americans living in the United States, as well as educating tourists and students of all races who come and stay at his estate.
The film starts with his daily life at UAACC but then juxtaposes his life before coming to Tanzania. In the late 1960’s, after being inspired and meeting Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, the founders of the original Black Panther Party, O’Neal created the Kansas City chapter.
In 1969, after being wrongly accused of murdering a cop, O’Neal fled Africa to avoid trial and for the last 40 years he’s been doing various activist work despite not setting foot in the U.S. since.
Even though he’s in exile, O’Neal gets to meet all types of visitors, ranging from tourists to intellectuals and from fellow activists to students.
All of these people come from diverse backgrounds but they’re usually (at least the ones that appear in the film) American. The documentary does a good job depicting various scenes in which O’Neal interacts with the visitors.
In one scene, O’Neal gleefully shows a group of students his many tattoos, some of which are quite embarrassing. In another, O’Neal gets frustrated when a few white tourists come off as naïve and uninformed regarding modern African-American issues.
The documentary also showcases what the UAACC really does. It helps out the village by doing a variety of things including but not limited to sponsoring local events and offering classes in a wide range of subjects.
One of the main themes in this documentary is culture clash, primarily between America and Africa. O’Neal recalls that when he first arrived in Tanzania, his abrasiveness and crude behavior put a lot of Tanzanians off. It was only when he decided to adapt the more peaceful outlook and mannerisms of Tanzanian culture, that he felt more at ease within himself, and therefore a better and wiser person.
In the second half of the film, this theme is explored further by introducing Derek and Marty, two young African-American men from Kansas City who are disadvantaged.
Through a study abroad program, the two stay at UAACC while learning about a culture far different from their own.
Although never outwardly disrespectful, both Marty and Derek often express utter confusion, stating that they both miss home and have no idea how O’Neal can spend four decades in Tanzania without ever going back to the U.S.
A short time later Derek and Marty start to appreciate Tanzanian culture, and also get in touch with their African roots.
You might not see Pete or Charlotte O’Neal compared with names like Martin Luther King, Jr., or Malcolm X, but it’s very obvious that the couple has done a lot for the African American community, as well for Africans in general.
“A Panther in Africa” not only showcases a man and his accomplishments, but also explores and tries to define what it means to be African, regardless of what country you come from.