In ‘The Big Cigar,’ a Black Panther Stars in a Fake Movie

When the movie producer Bert Schneider met the Black Panther Party leader Huey P. Newton, he swooned.

Schneider, who had helped revolutionize the movie industry (and made a lot of money) as a producer of films like “Easy Rider,” wanted to shake up things off the screen as well. He saw Newton, who had already done a prison stint for the killing of a police officer — Newton denied that he shot the officer, and the conviction was eventually overturned — as the real deal, a star on the front lines of the actual revolution.

Their unlikely partnership is now the heart of the new limited series “The Big Cigar,” premiering April 17 on Apple TV+. It’s a caper about how Newton (played by André Holland) fled to Cuba in 1974 after he was arrested and charged with the murder of a prostitute (also a crime he claimed he didn’t commit). Schneider (Alessandro Nivola) ponied up cash and logistical assistance, including a fake film production, to help Newton escape.

Holland and Alessandro Nivola, as Bert Schneider, in “The Big Cigar,” which is based on a true story.Credit…Brendan Adam-Zwelling/Apple TV+

“Cigar” tells a wild tale with shootouts and chases and a couple of strange bedfellows: a Black revolutionary on the run and a well-coiffed Hollywood power player looking to bankroll him. Even as it takes some liberties with the facts, the series reflects the ties that existed between some counterculture entertainment figures and radical organizations of the ’60s and ’70s.

“We didn’t see it as a story of Hollywood patting itself on the back,” Jim Hecht, the writer and an executive producer, said in a video interview. “There was a time when people actually did put their bodies on the line and do things for a cause that they believed in. They took personal risks to do things that were political.”

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