Doco reveals one woman’s abuse in Black protest movement

11 October, 2015 by Staff Writer

Indigenous woman Marlene Cummins breaks a 40 year silence to tell the story of her abuse in the Australian Black protest movement in the documentary Black Panther Woman, which premieres on SBS on November 1.

Produced by Blackfella Films (First Contact; Redfern Now) and directed by Rachel Perkins (Bran Nue Dae; Mabo), the film recouints Cummins’ journey which began in 1972 when she fell in love with the leader of the Australian Black Panther Party, Denis Walker. 


The little known Brisbane chapter of the Black Panther Party was inspired by the American Panthers. They adapted their politics, militant black leather outfits and defiant attitude. Like their American comrades, they also raised the attention of the police and ASIO.

Yet the Australian chapter had just 10 members. In one year, this group of young Aboriginal people staged educational theatre shows, kept watch on the police with ‘pig patrols’ and were at the forefront of demonstrations including the Aboriginal Tent Embassy.

Cummins’ vulnerability and her belief in the movement made her a target for men in power. She recalls the incident of her rape, after which she made the difficult decision to stay silent. Dedicated to the cause and distrustful of police, she, like many other Aboriginal women facing abuse, chose to stay silent to protect the movement from criticism.

Following the break-up of her relationship with Walker, she spiralled into a cycle of addiction that left her on the streets.

Forty years later, and still struggling with addiction, Black Panther Woman sees Cummins looking back on her involvement in the Aboriginal protest movement from her housing commission flat in Redfern. It culminates in her emotional journey to New York for a gathering of international Black Panthers.

“The premise of the film is relevant for all," director/producer Rachel Perkins said. “To have a fair and just society, we must have leadership with integrity.”

 Black Panther Woman premieres at 9.30pm on Sunday November 1.