As mainstream Hollywood looks back at race relations circa the Civil Rights Movement in films like The Butler and 42, independent films like 2010’s Night Catches Us and Katherine Nero’s new film, For the Cause, turn their gaze towards a very different faction of the Civil Rights struggle.  

Making its west coast premiere at the Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles last Friday, For the Cause is a project 12 years in the making.  Shot in a little over a week on location in Chicago, the film tells the story of emerging attorney Mirai Scott (Charlette Speigner), as she takes on the most difficult case of her young career—that of defending Rolly (Eugene Parker), her estranged father and former Black Panther who is charged with the attempted murder of a cop.

For the Cause is retrospective.  However, at its core, it is concerned with the present and present relationships.  Mirai has been dating Paul (Jerod Haynes) who by all accounts is the perfect guy.  Mirai likes him too but is afraid to let her guard down.  When Paul gets down on bended knee with a ring, Mirai leaves him hanging.  

If Mirai is guarded, her mother Fredi (Shariba Rivers) is an impenetrable great wall.  Fredi is a political science professor who was a Black Panther back in the day as well.  That’s really the extent of what anyone, including Mirai, knows.  You get the feeling that Mirai would just like a normal mother from time to time, and the fact that Mirai calls her mother by her first name speaks to the unconventional relationship the pair has.

Things heat up when Mirai takes Rolly’s case, visiting him in prison and picking his brain.  In order to present the most effective case, Mirai has to dig in unwanted places and probe people who have long left the past behind.  In so doing, Mirai gains more clarity on her parents’ past, not only as Black Panthers but also as the promising young couple who created her.

For the Cause is a dramatic film that is also fun with a strong and knowing sense of humor.  In a standout scene, politically and socially conscious Fredi is thrown into a room with Paul’s very conventional parents.  Things of course go horribly and the film mines the comedy for all it is worth.

But more than the humor, this scene and others like it place Mirai’s parents’ radical past on equal footing with other approaches blacks have historically used to create space for themselves in this country.  Both families have ascended to the middle class through different means and with very different worldviews.  If everything goes according to plan, soon these two very different black families will become one.

Fredi is who she is and Paul’s parents are who they are.  Each approach has its virtues – and in a surprise twist – pitfalls.  In this way, more successfully than the similar Night Catches Us, Nero’s film doesn’t get wrapped up in the easy temptation of harping on the radicalism of the Black Panther Party.  Instead For the Cause is interested in a much more human element.

For the Cause screens at the Pan African Film Festival (PAFF), running February 6- 17, 2014.

Ade D. Adeniji is a screenwriter based out of Los Angeles.  He’s also an A&E Features Writer for PolicyMic and has written for The Rumpus, Bleacher Report and Huffington Post.  Follow him on Twitter @derekadeniji.