Jean Seberg: screen icon and Black Panther supporter

Jean Seberg - film icon harassed by the FBI

Born in Iowa in 1938, Jean Seberg was an iconic actress of the 1960s and 70s whose support for radical politics led to her being hounded ultimately to suicide by the FBI as part of a wider campaign against the American New Left.

Though she had starred in respected films beforehand (for instance playing Joan of Arc in Otto Preminger's Saint Joan), it was not until her role as Patricia, aspiring journalist and American girlfriend of a Parisian thug, in Jean-Luc Godard's new wave cinema classic, Breathless, that Seberg earned her place as a cinematic icon.

In the latter part of the 1960s, Seberg began to involve herself in radical politics. Ahe spoke publicly in support of the NAACP and also supported Native American school groups like the Mesquakie Bucks at the Tama settlement near her hometown, who she bought $500 worth of basketball jerseys for. She also donated $100,000 to the Black Panther Party for Self Defence.

However, her political activity was seen as so dangerous by the American government that they felt she had to be "neutralised". Her phone was tapped, her personal life closely monitered and, in 1970, while seven months pregnant, the FBI decided to run a smear campaign against her, claiming that the baby was not fathered by her second husband but by a Black Panther. It was felt that such actions would serve to "cheapen her image".

At the peak of her career she suddenly stopped appearing in Hollywood films as she was offered no more major roles. COINTELPRO experts have suggested it likely she was blacklisted, as were other left-wing and communist actors like Jane Fonda.

Seberg's emotional instability being known to the FBI, the affect of the smear was for her to attempt suicide. Though she survived, Jean went into labour prematurely resulting in her child dying two days after the birth. Needless to say, all the accusations were completely fabricated by the FBI for political reasons.

Her depression and drug abuse would continue with Jean trying to kill herself around the anniversary of her daughter's death for the remaining nine years of her life. She eventually succeeded in 1979, aged only 40.

Sources 1 | 2 | 3

Comments

adamtyoung
Mar 18 2008 19:10

Ah, Jean. An angel. Here is a review of an interesting documentary about her life, titled From the Journals of Jean Seberg.