‘The Big Cigar’ Episodes 1-2 Recap & Ending Explained: Who Is Huey Percy Newton?


The works of American journalist Joshuah Bearman have already been adapted into Hollywood films, most notably the 2012 thriller Argo. An article by Bearman published in Playboy magazine in 2012 described how famous political activist and founder of the Black Panther Party, Huey Percy Newton, escaped to Cuba from the USA after finding himself in great trouble in his home country. This very article is now being adapted for the screen by AppleTV+ in their latest biographical drama series, The Big Cigar. In the first two episodes released in the premiere week, The Big Cigar establishes the characters and the moment of emergency that they presently find themselves in.

Spoiler Alert

Why is Huey in trouble?

The Big Cigar begins with scenes from 1974 in Beverly Hills, California, when the protagonist, Huey P. Newton, finds himself in a great deal of trouble. Following the usual style of narrative in biographical shows and films, we are then taken back in time to give context about the man on our screens and his significance in American society at the time. Huey’s personal story begins in 1949 when his family moved from Louisiana to Oakland in search of a better life amidst the terribly racist conditions all over the country. Within just two hours of their arrival, the Newtons were reminded of the unjust domination of the white population, as the young boy witnessed his father getting roughed up and harassed by white policemen. Like every other black child, Huey also got used to racial discrimination and grew frustrated by the police violence in his community. However, he decided to step up and do something against the condition, which was the very first step towards political activism.

As an eighteen-year-old boy in 1969, Huey and his best friend Bobby Seale started driving through their neighborhood and intervening whenever they saw the police harassing or beating up black folks. The protagonist had also started studying law by this time, and he used this knowledge to stop police brutality to whatever extent possible. Although the police department in Oakland obviously hated such an audacious development, the black community was immensely motivated by the act, and this is how the Black Panther Party was formed. Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale became the founders of the Black Rights Action organization, which soon took political and armed shapes as well. Within a short time, the California state brought in gun control laws, and it was perceived to be mostly a panicked reaction to the Black Panther Party’s image as an armed movement. 

A few months after the gun control laws were put in place, Huey and a friend were stopped by a police car on the streets, and the two black men were obviously harassed by the policemen. They refused to believe that Huey and his friend were harmless, and the situation escalated when the protagonist riled up one of the policemen, John Frey, who opened fire. What exactly followed was intentionally left out of the episode, especially since Huey himself is the narrator, but it resulted in Frey getting shot to death. Huey P. Newton, who had been shot first by the policeman, was arrested on the charge of being the prime suspect in the murder. He was sentenced to prison for voluntary manslaughter and was kept in solitary confinement for three straight years. A political movement carried out by black activists and Black Panther supporters calling for Huey to be freed from his unjust imprisonment succeeded, and in 1970, the man was finally released from jail after his conviction was overturned.

How did Huey first meet Bert Schneider?

While the activism did lead to Huey getting released from prison, Huey himself admitted that there was still too much supervision for him, which did not really make him feel free. Both the memories of the treacherous solitary confinement and the pressures of being an icon and leader to the black community often had him worried. Nonetheless, Huey continued to serve his role as the head of the Black Panther Party, and it was during this time that his close aide, Teressa Dixon, first brought his attention to Bert Schneider. Hailing from a wealthy and influential family of Jewish film producers, Bert was very interested in the changing politics and social dynamics of America and the world at the time, and he was determined to be a part of the social and political movements. In 1969, he had his first major breakthrough after sensing the potential of a grand success in a film written by Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper. The film that Bert and his associates produced was Easy Rider, the cult classic that is still revered to this day.

However, “Easy Rider” was not enough to satisfy Bert Schneider’s desire to be a part of the revolution being waged all over the world, mostly by young students. When watching the work of the Black Panther Party on television, he and his close friend Stephen Blauner were convinced that this was the real revolution, one to immediately participate in. The young man had money, and he knew that new political parties with activism as their main focus obviously needed wealth. Therefore, he offered a hundred thousand dollars as a donation to the Party, with the only request that he be made a member of the organization. The Big Cigar episode 1 shows Huey agreeing that many white men and women, especially in Hollywood, were also subjected to prejudice and bigoted behavior, but he refuses to be associated with such an openly capitalist film industry. Bert’s first effort at becoming a part of the Black Panther Party goes to waste without any effect.

Using his close acquaintance with Teressa, Bert soon invites Huey and some other members of the organization to an extravagant party at his house, where he once again tries his luck. He is sure that Hollywood cinema can easily be a mouthpiece of political movements, and so he wants to be more closely associated with the Black Rights’ movement in order to make films on it. Huey once again denies the offer, as he still sees Bert Schneider as an extension of Hollywood, which, by principle, was the enemy according to his ideology. Having no other option, the man then starts to follow Huey around, asking to be heard one more time, and on one such occasion, the Black Panther members are harassed by police officers. Witnessing the heightened situation, Bert tries to keep the officers away, telling them how the activists had done nothing wrong, but to no avail. He soon gets involved in the street fight and simply attacks one of the police officers as well. As a result, he is arrested along with the black folks, and this struggle against his own race proves to Huey about Bert’s good intentions, and the two become friends.

Why did Huey and Eldridge fall out?

Although the Black Panther Party achieved quite some success in the following years, they had to face a number of setbacks as well. Eldridge Cleaver was one of the key members of the organization during its most active days, and he was naturally a close friend to Huey Newton and Bobby Seale. However, his decision to attack a few policemen in Oakland had a detrimental effect, as a young member named Lil’ Bobby was killed in the action. Bobby had been the very first recruit to the Party after it was formed by Huey, and so he was much loved by the man. Although young Bobby wanted to be a revolutionary warrior from the very beginning, it was Huey who convinced him to be an accountant instead, which was more suited for him. Therefore, Eldridge’s decision to take Lil’ Bobby to a fight, which even led to the young man’s death, immensely angered Huey.

With time, Eldridge fled the United States as he started facing the heat from the police and took refuge in Algeria, which was once again something that the protagonist disliked. A gradual sense of animosity crept in between the two men, and Eldridge majorly disliked the direction in which Huey took the Party. To Huey, all the bloodshed and violence were a means to strive for social justice and equality, and over time, he himself started to do social work as part of the Black Panther Party. As part of this, he started food camps targeted especially at children, where the party members volunteered to varying degrees. The members were often asked to serve food to the children and the elderly, in a great example of community-based social work, but it was not perceived well by some of the members, leading to their resignation. 

Eldridge, too, criticized this change, as he was of the opinion that the Black Panthers were a militant organization meant to cause an armed revolution. The Party’s image as a benevolent provider ensuring that no black child had to suffer from impoverishment was not appreciated by him. Therefore, Eldridge called out Huey’s leadership during a public talk show, leading to the latter immediately canceling international memberships in the organization, ousting Eldridge Cleaver from the Party. Later on, when the Party faced a severe crackdown from the FBI led by J. Edgar Hoover, Huey agreed to reestablish connections with Eldridge and ask him for advice regarding the same. But we are yet to witness that part of history in The Big Cigar, as the premiere episodes have Huey worrying about a different personal problem.

Can Huey escape the USA by the end of the episodes?

The main focus at the beginning of The Big Cigar, taking place in 1974, is Huey P. Newton being searched for by the police on charges of murder after a sex worker is found dead in California. While the exact details about the death are not made clear, it can be figured out from the news programs that Huey’s car had been spotted close to the dead body or the victim when she was alive. The protagonist rushes to his friends from Hollywood, Bert Schneider, and Stephen Blauner, for help, and the two provide him shelter for a few days. Despite their lawyer’s counsel, the men also help get rid of evidence, particularly the car, to help out Huey. However, the FBI and the police conduct multiple raids in an effort to find the perpetrator, and this means that Huey cannot stay in hiding for long.

This is when the central characters decide that the only way to help Huey’s situation would be to sneak him out of the United States of America, and the best place for him to take shelter would be Cuba. A further and more extensive plan is then made, in which Bert and Blauner would be faking a film production titled ‘The Big Cigar,’ for which they will travel to Cuba for the shooting. It is through this fake film production unit that Huey would also be taken over to the country, and a Cuban man who often flies supplies from the USA to the country is also hired. As part of the plan, a separate airstrip is also created in order to fly off without raising any suspicions, but it all goes to waste at the end of The Big Cigar episode 2. The Cuban pilot does not arrive, as he had been caught up in his ill habit of gambling the previous night. In order to get rid of his dues, the pilot agreed to give his debtors the location of Huey P. Newton, which was valuable information at the time because of the FBI’s search for the man. This ascertains that Huey is unable to fly off to Cuba yet at the end of the premiere episodes, and how it will ultimately take place still remains to be seen.

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Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya keeps an avid interest in all sorts of films, history, sports, videogames and everything related to New Media. Holding a Master of Arts degree in Film Studies, he is currently working as a teacher of Film Studies at a private school and also remotely as a Research Assistant and Translator on a postdoctoral project at UdK Berlin.

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