A simplified history of the Black Panther Party, Van Peebles' Panther tries to reconstruct the 1960s idealism and optimism that led to its formation.

In his fictionalized narrative, Van Peebles does harm to the subject he intends to honor. Panther suffers from the same narrative and stylistic problems that had plagued Van Peebles' earlier movies. The Panthers have been so maligned in the last two decades that a movie about them called for a serious, responsible treatment, of which Van Peebles was obviously incapable.

Working from a script by his father Melvin, Van Peebles positions as narrator Judge (Kadeem Hardison), a Vietnam vet attending Berkeley on the GI bill. Judge wants to stay out of radical politics, but circumstances in the Oakland ghetto push him into the Panthers, then a handful of armed blacks standing firm against Oakland's racist police. Judge gets close to Huey Newton (Marcus Chong) and Bobby Seale (Courtney B. Vance), and approached by Oakland PD detective Brimmer (Joe Don Baker) to inform on the Party, Newton encourages him to act as double agent.

When Newton is thrown into jail, Judge has no way to allay the Panthers' suspicions that he may be an informant. The spy plot is designed to provide a center, but Judge's predicament isn't integrated into the story, and the other, equally problematic characters suffer from sketchy conception.

Van Peebles shows some of the Party's dark side with occasional references to their ideological shallowness or condescension toward women. But, as Andy Klein pointed out, no mention is made of the difference between the Bay Area and L.A. ghettos, and there is no reference to the race dynamics of the 1960s.

Stylistically disappointing, every scene is pitched at the same level, which creates monotony, and the frequent shifts between color and black and white feels arbitrary. Van Peebles's worst mistake is his choice of music, which takes liberties with chronology.

A fatuous potboiler, the film transforms an American tragedy–the rise and fall of the Black Panthers–into kitsch. As a fictionalized account, Panther represents a gloss on history.
Simplified, when it should be complex, sanitized when moral ambiguity doesn't suits its agenda, Panther glorifies the positive aspiration of the late 1960s Black Power movement, blaming the FBI for its relentless efforts to destroy the Black Panthers, a campaign led by FBI director Edgar Hoover, who labeled the group Public Enemy No. 1.