“Dear Mama,” is a five-part FX docuseries streaming on Hulu. It delves into the life of Afeni Shakur and highlights the ways her activist roots influenced her son Tupac. Directed by Allen Hughes, “Dear Mama” debuted on April 21st becoming the network’s most-watched unscripted series premiere.
Afeni was born Alice Faye Williams in Lumberton, NC, on January 10, 1947. She moved to Harlem at age 11 with her sister and mother. Ten years later in 1968, she was inspired to join the Black Panther Party after hearing Bobby Seale speak outside the organization’s newly opened Harlem office.
The Black Panther Party started in Lowndes County, AL in 1965 as a political party whose goal was getting Black people elected to office. The name and symbol were adopted by Huey Newton in Oakland, CA in 1966. At that time the organization shifted its focus from electoral politics to eradicating police brutality.
“The greatest most lethal weapon is a free and armed Black mind.” -Jamal Joseph
April 2, 1969, Afeni and 20 other members of the Black Panther Party (The Panther 21) were arrested on more than 150 conspiracy charges that carried a maximum sentence of 300 years. It was during this period that Tupac was conceived. Despite having no legal experience, Afeni chose to represent herself in court.
On May 12, 1971, Afeni and The Panther 21 were acquitted of all charges. Tupac was born 35 days later.
“Tupac was conceived during the worst part of my life. I was on trial for my life. I chose his name because I wanted my son to understand that African Americans are not the only people that this has happend to.” -Afeni Shakur
While highlighting the legacies of Afeni and Tupac Shakur, “Dear Mama” provides a lesson in American history. It exemplifies the importance of pollical education in the life’s work of both Afeni and her son. The docuseries also shows the lengths the federal government went through to dismantle Black social justice movement through the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, and COINTELPRO. Yet one of its most compelling offerings is the honest and compassionate look at how Afeni’s drug addiction impacted the family. Her sister Gloria Cox states, “‘Feni wanted the story told correctly. That means blemishes and all, so people can understand that whole thing of what makes a human being as he and a human being as she.”
Tupac’s song “Dear Mama,” for which the docuseries is named, has become a Mother’s Day classic, even with its raw and real lyrics. It is a reminder that the journey of motherhood is uncertain and full of obstacles. Afeni described it as “a song for us,” and Tupac’s way of saying “I got the whole thing.” When it was released in 1995, it became a tender moment in Hip Hop that changed the culture. It is also the foundation for which the FX docuseries is built.
As we prepare to celebrate mothers and mother-figures, “Dear Mama” offers a perspective of motherhood we rarely see in media. It also gives further context to Tupac Shakur, one of the most iconic public figures of the 20th century. Afeni’s brilliance and passion shines through each of the three episodes that have aired thus far. The final episodes of “Dear Mama” will be released over the next two weeks.