The Big Cigar (Miniseries Review)

The Big Cigar (Miniseries Review)

“The Big Cigar”

TV-MA/Historical Drama/Thriller

Developed by: Jim Hecht

Directed by: Don Cheadle, Damon Thomas & Tiffany Johnson

Starring: André Holland (“Moonlight”), Alessandro Nivola (“The Art of Self-Defense”), Tiffany Boone (“Hunters”), P.J. Byrne (“Babylon”), Marc Menchaca (“Ozark”) and Moses Ingram (“Obi-Wan Kenobi”)

Synopsis: While a manhunt is underway on Huey P. Newton, the founder of the Black Panther Party, for a crime he did not commit, he receives help from movie producer Bert Schneider to help him find refuge in Cuba, all under the guise of a Hollywood film production.

Review: I didn’t know anything about this historical event, so I went into these six episodes completely in the dark. Based on a 2013 Playboy article of the same name, written by Joshuah Bearman, “The Big Cigar,” follows the “mostly true, at least how [Huey P. Newton] remembers it” story of how a fake Hollywood production took place to help get Newton to Cuba to save him from incarceration. This probably sounds a little familiar, well that is because the 2012 film, “Argo” revolves around a similar situation that was also based on a Joshua Bearman article. However, like “Argo”, I feel like this story would have benefited from being a feature film rather than a six episode limited series.

The story itself is interesting, it centers on the tension between minorities and law enforcement causing the rise of the Black Panther Party that brought help to those oppressed. Huey P. Newton was the man behind it all and he did what he could to help his community. This led to the police  accusing him of murder of a young girl. In comes movie producers Bert Schneider and Stephen Blauner, who want to help Huey make a difference so they agree to help him get to Cuba by faking a movie. Since this part of the story is what the series is mostly about, the creators go straight to the heart the story and use flashbacks to show the audience backstories and why the viewer should care. I understand it’s important to the overall character arcs but it was very jarring when it came to the narrative structure when almost every scene took place in a different year ranging from 1967-1974. With all the jumping around, it made the experience a little tedious because it felt a little unfocused and all over the place. Since the majority of the main story takes place in a short time, it can also make the story a little thin that was spread too long over the 240+ minutes of runtime.

The aspect that deserves the most recognition are the performances. Every actor in this ensemble brings their A-Game and gives great portrayals of these real people. André Holland as Huey P. Newton in particular was incredible and definitely deserves an Emmy nomination when award season comes around. Moses Ingram as Teressa Dixon also steals the scenes in the limited screen time she was given, similar to her role as Reva  in Star Wars’ “Obi-Wan Kenobi” (which I just recently watched and she was a personal highlight), she commands the screen with her presence and I look forward to seeing her upcoming projects. P.J. Byrne as Stephen Blauner was also really good because he brought more of the comedic aspect to the series which itself clashed a bit with the overall tone, but like his previous roles he always seems to make me laugh.

Overall, I think there’s a really good film in this limited series that shines a light on a lesser known event in history, even if it felt a little too long and disjointed for me and at times had to fight for my full attention. However, the strong performances make the entire experience almost worth it.

Score: 6/10

All episodes now streaming on Apple TV+