The Seattle Chapter of the Black Panther Party marching with signs to call for a boycott of the Mayfair supermarket

Seattle Black Film Festival 2023 Pays Homage to the Local Black Panther Party and More

by Vee Hua 華婷婷

Returning in-person for the first time in three years, the 20th annual Seattle Black Film Festival (SBFF) celebrates opening night at Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute on April 22, kicking off with a powerful preview of a work-in-progress documentary produced by and featuring members of the Seattle Chapter of the Black Panther Party. The festival will run through April 30 and be presented in hybrid format with in-person and online screenings, featuring a curated selection of feature films, performances, and short film program blocks.

SBFF Festival Manager Isabella Price — who is also a creator in her own right — articulated her vision for SBFF, stating, “My approach for it is: one, making sure that I’m always paying attention to what’s coming up and where the culture is headed — and what people are doing [to] push the medium forward … [but also] paying attention to films from our past that have been sort of looked over, and the kinds of stories that have been looked over.”

Price, who has an interest in stories that often get pushed into the margins of other film festivals, noted that a Black film festival in Seattle is especially important because of the longevity of Black artists who have contributed significantly to the region’s culture.

“Seattle is in the process of rebuilding itself as a film production center, where films get made, and so much of Seattle’s history is built on Blackess. It’s built on Black people, [but] I feel like those two conversations are often not linked,” she shared. “We want to talk about the history of Jimi Hendrix and Octavia Butler; we want to talk about the history of great Black artists and also film, but we don’t often talk about the Black filmmakers who are also working in this city.”

Among the festival’s local filmmakers is Rick DuPree, who will kick off opening night with excerpts from a work-in-progress documentary, titled Seattle Black Panther: Fight for Justice and Freedom. DuPree, who works at Seattle Academy, became passionate about telling the story of the Seattle Chapter of the Black Panther Party (SBPP) after the school’s Black Student Union was looking for a guest speaker. They eventually invited Elmer Dixon, an SBPP leader, and DuPree found himself incredibly inspired by what Dixon had to share with the young students.

Despite the fact that the Seattle Chapter of the Black Panther Party was the first one to be created outside of California, its history is not well-known to many of Seattle’s residents. In its attempt to rectify this, DuPree’s documentary centers much of its narrative on the original members of SBPP — including Elmer Dixon and his brother, Aaron Dixon, as well as many others — who share their experiences in their own words. Their work is then contextualized by artists, activists, and the broader Seattle community that has been influenced by their legacy.

DuPree expressed that two of the film’s main offerings are a history of why the Black Panther Party was first started in Oakland, and the lengths to which the group was dedicated to their work.

“[The] COINTEL Program with J. Edgar Hoover [and] the government … [were] basically labeling them as extremists … [which] was not the case, and they were responding to the brutality that police were inflicting,” shared DuPree, who explains that the film begins with archival footage from the founders. “[We hope to convey] the commitment [of these] teenagers in their early 20s. … In the interviews, they say that, ‘We knew that we might not live, and we didn’t expect to live past 25,’ but again, they still fought this fight.”

The Seattle Black Panther Party continued from 1968 to 1978. It made the best of its 10 years through community work, such as its Free Breakfast Program, Prison to Business Program, ambulance services, and free clothing programs. It also printed a newspaper, received donations and support from well-known celebrities, and staged visible protests around town and at the State Capitol in Olympia.

The Seattle Chapter ceased operations four years before the Black Panther Party as a whole ended in 1982. SBFF’s opening night this year harkens back to the SBPP’s 50th anniversary event, which was hosted in 2018 — in part at Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute — and continues to tell the story of local Black resistance against government-sanctioned racism.

“Now, as I’m getting to the later stages of my life … this is kind of a direction I want to go in: telling these important stories for our people, and uplifting the Black community, in particular,” said DuPree. “It’s important to me, and this is a story that I think — for us as Black people — we look at it, and there’s a lot of pride that comes out [around] what these young women and men did.”

Tariqa Waters poses in “Thank You, MS PAM.”

The work-in-progress screening during SBFF’s opening night will serve as an intermediary for DuPree to raise awareness and fundraise for the remainder of the documentary. Meanwhile, other festival highlights include a Centerpiece event on Thursday, April 27, which features interdisciplinary artist Tariqa Waters presenting a special edit of her film series, Thank You, MS PAM, along with special guests and performances in an innovative talk show format. 

“We’re going to have music and skaters and double-dutch and choreography, and it’s just going to be this crazy event that is one part late night with Johnny Carson and one part the Muppets,” explained Price. “I just am so stoked to be able to present Tariqa in this space.”

In 2023, SBFF celebrates its 20th year, but the year is just as important for the festival’s host nonprofit, LANGSTON, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary, as well as the historic building that houses it, which is celebrating its 100th. All three are important cultural fixtures for the local Black community, and SBFF offers a concise way to be able to celebrate the region’s artists. 

“It just feels like it’s really important to me to be able to always acknowledge that Black artists have made Seattle [and] put Seattle on the map. I just feel like it’s really important to not lose that in a city that’s ever-gentrifying, ever-whitening,” said Price, who also notes that the festival’s genre programs in sci-fi, fantasy, or queer films are especially strong this year. “I feel like it’s very easy for people to want to look at Black art as though it is a relic of the past and not as though it’s something that’s being currently created in the present.”

Her message echoes that of DuPree. Of his Seattle Black Panther Party film, he shared, “I think, hopefully, it will really shed some light on the vibrant African American community that was here back then, and is here now.”

Vee Hua 華婷婷 (they/them) is a writer, filmmaker, and organizer with semi-nomadic tendencies. Much of their work unifies their metaphysical interests with their belief that art can positively transform the self and society. They are the editor-in-chief of REDEFINE, a co-chair of the Seattle Arts Commission, and a film educator at the interdisciplinary community hub, Northwest Film Forum, where they previously served as executive director and played a key role in making the space more welcoming and accessible for diverse audiences. After a recent stint as the interim managing editor at South Seattle Emerald, they are moving into production on their feature film, Reckless Spirits, which is a metaphysical, multilingual POC buddy comedy. Learn more about them at

📸 Featured Image: The Seattle Chapter of the Black Panther Party calls for the boycott of the Mayfair supermarket. Elmer Dixon is pictured third from left. (Photo:  Stephen Shames Photos: Stephen Shames/courtesy Steven Kasher Gallery)

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