Actress Jean Seberg And The Black Panthers: Did The FBI Have Her Killed?

By | March 19, 2019

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June 18: 1957: Actress Jean Seberg (1938 - 1979) arriving at London Airport a week before attending the premiere of Otto Preminger's film Saint Joan in which she stars. (Photo by Cox/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

In 1960 Jean Seberg flashed onto the screen in Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless (A Bout De Souffle). While it wasn’t her first film, it's the one that she's most famous for, and the French New Wave masterpiece brought this Iowa girl into an international spotlight. While Seberg tried to use her fame and fortune for good by giving to causes that aided Civil Rights programs, she was also an outspoken proponent of the Black Panthers, an anti-fascist, black political organization that J. Edgar Hoover described as "the greatest threat to the internal security of the country."

Over the course of nearly a decade, the FBI stalked Seberg, tapped her phones, and spread malicious rumors about her. All of this weighed down on her and many people believe that the government’s drive to embarrass Seberg on a national scale lead to her death. 

A Girl From Iowa Becomes A French Superstar

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Jean Seberg during the shooting of A Bout De Souffle (Breathless). Source: (

Before she was the "it" girl of French New Wave cinema, before she was on the FBI’s hit list for donating minor sums to the Black Panthers, Jean Seberg was just a gal growing up in Iowa. Born in 1938 in Marshalltown, Iowa, Seberg was like a lot of young would-be stars: she loved the theater and ended up studying drama at the University of Iowa.

In 1957 Seberg was hired by director Otto Preminger to star in Saint Joan. The film was a disaster both critically and commercially, and because this was Seberg’s first picture she took the whole thing personally. She later said of the experience:

I have two memories of Saint Joan. The first was being burned at the stake in the picture. The second was being burned at the stake by the critics. The latter hurt more. I was scared like a rabbit and it showed on the screen. It was not a good experience at all.