Hulu and FX series ‘Dear Mama’ chronicles Tupac and his Black Panther mom

She was a powerful, revolutionary voice for the people, a voice the government tried to silence. In the pre-dawn hours of April 2, 1969, Afeni Shakur, who would become the mother of the legendary hip-hop artist Tupac Shakur, was arrested with 20 other members of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense in Harlem. The group was falsely accused of conspiring to bomb buildings in New York.

Afeni Shakur, who was only 22 years old at the time and a leader in the Black Power movement, was sent to the New York Women’s House of Detention, a women’s prison in Manhattan. It was there, in January 1970, that she wrote a prophetic letter about the conditions of Black people in America and their fight for justice.

We know that you are trying to break us up because we are the truth and because you can’t control us,” Shakur wrote. “We know that you always try to destroy what you can’t control. We know that you are afraid of us because we represent a truth of the universe. We are not being tried for any overt act nor for [the] attempt to commit any overt act — we are being tried for bringing within our minds the focusing of the ideas of centuries and trying to bring this knowledge into a workable plan to liberate our people from oppression.”

FX on Friday is set to premiere “Dear Mama: The Saga of Afeni and Tupac Shakur,” a five-part docuseries that explores the lives of the late Afeni Shakur and her late son Tupac, the rapper, actor, poet and political visionary. The series will also stream on Hulu.

“Dear Mama” moves between the 1970s and 1990s to tell the story of Tupac and the woman who so powerfully shaped him, connecting hip-hop with Black activism and “the struggle for human rights.” Afeni Shakur’s voice would plant the seed for her son’s voice and his music, which cried out against injustice with lyrics that still resound worldwide.

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The series is directed by Allen Hughes, who filmed three of Tupac’s early music videos and originally cast him in the 1993 blockbuster “Menance II Society,” according to Billboard. Tupac was fired from that film after a fight on set, during which his associates beat Hughes. Hughes told Billboard that he was reluctant at first to direct “Dear Mama.”

“I just didn’t know if I wanted to [deal with] what I was gonna be forced to, personally,” he said. “I didn’t know if I wanted to go on that emotional journey, but I said, ‘Give me a few days, let me think about it.’” He eventually decided to make “Dear Mama” and incorporate his relationship with Tupac into the film.

At one point in the docuseries, Afeni Shakur is shown explaining her motherly mission. “It was my responsibility to teach Tupac how to survive his reality,” she says. The camera flashes to Tupac, as a 17-year-old high school student, explaining his ethos. “My mother taught me to analyze society and not be quiet. If there’s something in my mind, speak it,” he says. “My mother was a Black Panther. And she was really involved in the movement.”

Years later, he raps: “My mother never let me forget my history, hoping I would set free chains that were put on me.”

Afeni Shakur explains it was difficult to be a mother. “I knew very well how to protect my children,” she says. “I’ve spent a great deal of my own life in prison. I never wanted it to happen to my son.”

Then the camera rewinds time to a speech that seemingly sets the stage for her son. It’s as if Afeni Shakur were rapping in the same verse and space, but many years before Tupac would become a star: “I have a revolutionary story to tell,” she shouts, as the camera pans to black-and-white footage of her being arrested. “My hands refuse to be beaten by this tormented cell.”

Afeni Shakur was born Alice Faye Williams in 1947 in Lumberton, N.C., and moved with her sister to the Bronx when she was about 11 years old. In 1968, after listening to a speech by Bobby Seale, the powerful co-founder of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, she joined up. She changed her name to Afeni Shakur after marrying Lumumba Shakur, who founded the Harlem chapter of the Black Panther Party.

Seale and Huey Newton had founded the Black Panthers on Oct. 15, 1966, to protect Black communities from police brutality. “People often forget Huey Newton was a law student in 1965,” former Black Panther David Hilliard said in 2006, during a panel at the University of New Mexico. “Newton and Seale patrolled with law books in one hand and a gun in the other.”

“We did not practice racist ideology,” Hilliard recalled. “The system was discriminatory and violent. Our slogan became revolution and survival, pending transformation of society; survival pending revolution.”

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The Black Panthers focused on universal health care, education, decent housing, free medical care and transportation for seniors. The party required members to attend political education classes, adhere to the party’s disciplinary rules and memorize the 10-point party platform, which called for land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice and peace.

The party, which at its height had more than 2,000 members in chapters throughout the country, created free school breakfast programs and provided sickle cell anemia testing, legal aid and adult education. But it became a target of the FBI. On June 15, 1969, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover declared that “the Black Panther Party, without question, represents the greatest threat to internal security of the country.”

In 1969, during simultaneous raids across New York, Afeni Shakur and 20 other members of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense were arrested on charges of conspiracy to blow up police stations and other public institutions in New York. She and her husband were arrested at their apartment.

Tupac would later recall the raids: “The government raided every Panther’s house, especially the ones they felt like could do the most damage as an orator. They burst in and put a gun to my mother’s head and said, ‘Don’t move. You are under arrest.’ They treated her like less than human.”

Bail was set at $100,000. The Black Panthers raised the money, and Afeni Shakur was released. But the bail was later remanded, and Shakur, who was then five months pregnant with the baby that would become Tupac, was sent back to jail after two other defendants skipped bail.

During the trial in New York court, “she was her own attorney, never been to law school,” Tupac recalled as a high-schooler. “She was facing 300-and-something-odd years. One Black woman, pregnant, beat the case. That just goes to show you the strength of a Black woman, the strength of the oppressed.”

Indeed, on May 1971, Afeni Shakur and 12 other Black Panthers were acquitted on all 12 counts. “The members of the jury — which included five blacks and one Puerto Rican — reached unanimous verdict so quickly that they surprised even themselves,” the New York Times reported.

“We had lunch and began talking and were amazed to find out right away that we all felt about the same, after the verdict was given in the eight-month trial, the longest in the history of the State Supreme Court here,” juror Frederick Hills, an editor for McGraw Hill Publications, told the Times,

Another juror, Joseph Gary, said: “There just wasn’t enough evidence. We all came with bags, prepared to stay a long time, but it wasn’t necessary. There was evidence, all right, but it just wasn’t enough.”

On June 16, 1971 — “one month and three days after we were acquitted,” Afeni Shakur told CNN in a 2003 interview — she gave birth to a baby boy, who would be named Tupac Amaru Shakur.

In 1995, Tupac released the song “Dear Mama,” in tribute to his mother. A year later, on Sept. 13, 1996, he was fatally injured when someone in a white Cadillac fired shots at Tupac as his car waited at a stoplight in Las Vegas. The slaying remains unsolved.

After her son’s death, Afeni Shakur worked to preserve his legacy. She oversaw his estate, founding Amaru Entertainment and releasing Tupac’s unreleased work. In 1997, she founded the Tupac Amaru Shakur Foundation, which according to the foundation, was “dedicated to eradicating the effects of trauma on our community by raising awareness of its impact on mental health and wellness.”

Afeni Shakur also executive-produced “All Eyez on Me: The Writings of Tupac Shakur,” a collection of Tupac’s lyrics, poems, clothing and videos of his performances, which was exhibited at the Grammy Museum.

“Tupac’s writings are an honest reflection of his passions for, and about life,” Afeni Shakur wrote in a message on the museum’s website. “His timeless messages have instilled hope for those who have little, and for others, they serve as a catalyst for change. His words continue to motivate and inspire new generations. The world is a better place because of him.”

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Afeni Shakur continued her work to lift up her community until she died on May 2, 2016, in California, after a cardiac arrest. In a recent film, she is heard advocating for people to find stories in history and correct them.

“Where are your stories?” she asked. “Tell those stories. … If you don’t do it, we will be erased. Already, these young people don’t know that we stood mighty. They already don’t know that if it hadn’t been for the women, there would have been no Black Panther Party.”

Her son, of course, had known that powerful history since he was a child.

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