“You don't know what we are”: a battle-cry that is almost a statement of intent. Made of archival and found footage, The Devil is composed of fragments and testimonials from the Black Panther Party struggle against oppression, composing a visual essay that documents the history of the movement and the way it developed.
Whilst on surface level this might appear like a simple historical document, Periot's film does much more: by taking the oppressed minority par excellence as an example, it speaks for all those that have been cyclically turned into 'Others'. In doing so, The Devilgoes beyond historical specificity, becoming a wider comment on the near-universal tendency of perceiving difference as a menace, an enemy to be annihilated.
“You think you know what we are, but you don't know what we are”. Initially, this sounds defiant if not downright threatening; however, we soon come to realize that it is rather a mere acknowledgement of how prejudice works. Similarly, speeches about not mimicking white people, or the final “We are black […] and we are beautiful!” resonate as declarations of pride in one's own diversity, also on a wider level.
As such, The Devil's strength lies precisely in its ability to be at once a historically accurate documentary and a relevant criticism of contemporary society, using past issues as a way to discuss current ones. The picture it paints, however, is grim: if what was at stake forty or fifty years ago continues to be relevant today, how much has really changed?
Text written: Chiara Puntil, Cineuropa