Where and When Does The Big Cigar Take Place?

Apple TV+’s historical series ‘The Big Cigar’ leads the viewers to one of the significant periods in the political history of the country. Through Huey P. Newton’s efforts to disappear from the United States to seek refuge in Cuba, the narrative explores the intricacies of the Black Power movement led by the Black Panther Party in the second half of the 20th century. The show prominently unfolds in two regions in California, which are integral parts of not only the narrative but also the lives of the historical figures presented in the biographical drama! SPOILERS AHEAD.

Hollywood and Oakland in the 1970s

‘The Big Cigar’ mainly takes place in Hollywood and Oakland, California, in the 1970s, with a few scenes set in the 1960s as well. The main narrative is set in the year 1974, which was immensely crucial in the life of Huey P. Newton. The Black Panther Party’s co-founder was accused of killing Kathleen Smith, a seventeen-year-old Oakland native, which forced him to leave the country and seek refuge in Cuba. The politician teamed up with Bert Schneider, who created a fake film production set up to lead his friend to the island country. Since Smith’s death occurred in 1974, kickstarting a series of events in Huey’s life, it isn’t a surprise that the series mainly takes place in the same year.

The two main geographical settings, Hollywood and Oakland, are significant parts of Schneider and Huey’s lives, respectively. As a prominent producer, Schneider lived in the heart of Hollywood. Huey, on the other hand, spent a major share of his life in Oakland. He formed the Black Panther Party with Bobby Seale in 1966 in Oakland, which became the headquarters of the political organization. Huey and his party’s Free Breakfast for Children, which is a major concern of the politician when he becomes a fugitive overnight in the series, began in St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church in West Oakland.

Through the juxtaposition of Hollywood and Oakland, the series explores the contrasting realities of the 1970s. While the Los Angeles neighborhoods were shining with prosperity, Oakland and similar regions were facing several concerns and challenges, including racism, poverty, police brutality, and class struggle. When Huey and Schneider’s paths cross in the series, the realities of the two regions intersect as well, depicting the life of Americans during one of the politically eventful periods in the country’s history. The manhunt to capture Huey that unfolded in 1974 sets the stage for a dive into the political and social reality of the time in the historical drama.

Even though Huey’s escape to Cuba forms the show’s central narrative, the creative minds behind the series didn’t want their show to be limited to the same. “I wanted to make sure that this wasn’t a white savior story,” André Holland, who plays Huey, told The New York Times. “That’s something that we discussed all the way up until the very last episode. There were allies in Hollywood, people who were supporters of the party. At the same time, I think Huey P. Newton deserves a series all his own, and the party deserves its own series,” the actor added.

The decision to not limit the narrative to Schneider’s assistance to lead Huey to Cuba seemingly paved the way for the birth of the scenes about the politician’s upbringing. The first episode offers glimpses of the birth of the Black Panther Party and its initial activities. The atrocities Huey had to face while establishing the political organization, including his wrongful imprisonment, provide commendable insights into his life before 1974. The scenes that are set before 1970, the year he gets released from prison after getting arrested for the voluntary manslaughter of John Frey, are part of this extended narrative.

Jim Hecht, who developed the series, didn’t see ‘The Big Cigar’ as a show about Hollywood saving one of the most significant Black leaders of all time. By chronicling Huey’s upbringing from 1949 to the early 1970s, Hecht and his writers justified their intention to create a biographical drama principally about Huey.

Read More: Were Huey P. Newton and Richard Pryor Friends?