Revisiting 'The Black Power Mixtape' on Its 5th Anniversary (Released Sept. 9, 2011)
Photo Credit: S & A
Film

Revisiting 'The Black Power Mixtape' on Its 5th Anniversary (Released Sept. 9, 2011)

Sundance Selects
Sundance Selects

Released in USA theaters on this day, September 9, 2011, Swedish director Goran Hugo Olsson’s empowering Sundance 2011 entry, “The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975.”

I think we could argue that the legacy of the Black Power Movement really hasn’t been properly and fully placed in context, especially on film. Historically vilified by some, or fetishized by others, its effect and influence on other political movements still isn’t widely acknowledged and celebrated, unlike the earlier Civil Rights Movement.

Olsson’s empowering “The Black Power Mixtape,” produced by Danny Glover, attempts to contextualizes the movement, at home and abroad, as well as highlight its successes and failures, and note its importance today; it wants to raise awareness and reignite penetrating discussion on the movement, by introducing it to a new global generation, in a format that may be more accessible to them – the concept we call the “mixtape,” hence the title.





The story goes… the late 60s/early 70s saw Swedish interest in the US Civil Rights Movement peak; and with a demonstrated combination of commitment and naivete, Swedish filmmakers, armed with 16mm photography and sound equipment, driven partly by what they perceived to be a shared objective with the Black Power Movement (broadly, equal rights for all), traveled across the Atlantic to investigate and explore that specific movement, in order to confirm or nullify its purposefully negative portrayal by the US press. And it was all accomplished despite obstacles from both the conservative whites and fringe members of the movement itself.

Their efforts resulted in some amazing and explosive 16mm footage of key Black Power figures and Civil Rights activists of the day (footage that was discovered some 30 years after it was recorded, sitting, untouched, in the cellar of a Swedish television station).

The found footage includes interviews and even intimate moments with the likes of Stokely Carmichael/Kwame Ture, Eldridge Cleaver, Bobby Seale, Huey P. Newton, Harry Belafonte and an incarcerated Angela Davis. Watching a much younger, confident, and erudite Ms Davis’ lengthy and forceful retort on the hypocrisy in questioning the use of violence as a tool in revolution, was deeply affecting and invigorating. You just might applaud in acknowledgment when the scene ends.

Stokely Carmichael, while on a speaking tour in Europe, discussing Martin Luther King Jr. and the meaning of nonviolent resistance, was also a remarkable captured moment.

All that archival footage combined with audio interviews from contemporary leading African American artists, activists, musicians and scholars, like Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, Erykah Badu, Professor Robin Kelley, Talib Kweli, Melvin Van Peebles, and Sonia Sanchez, done with the understood objective of introducing a new generation to the Black Power Movement, “The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975,” highlighting the gradual development of the Black Power Movement over those 9 years, comes to life!

The complementary combo, peppered with B-roll footage of past and present images of blacks in America, accompanied by a form- and content-enhancing hip soundtrack, created by Questlove and music producer Corey Smyth (once manager for De La Soul and Mos Def), creates a mosaic that re-energizes the soul. It’s enlightening, inspiring, and even capable of inciting a new generation to similar acts of rebellion, all in the name of progressive change.

It’s a documentary, but not what I’d call a traditional one; I think the word automatically elicits very specific reactions and expectations of the form itself, and we prep ourselves for something that’s maybe more didactic than *entertaining.* But “The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975” manages to tickle both the intellectual and the visceral in the viewer, being simultaneously informative and delightful, so that even the most averse to non-fiction work should be able to watch this and feel like the experience was worthwhile.

It’s not what I’d call an exhaustive look at the Black Power Movement, and director Olsson readily acknowledges that. Those already thoroughly familiar with the history of the movement may not learn anything new here, though this energetic snapshot of the period should still appeal. As already suggested, it’s more of a primer for the young and uninitiated; although, that’s not necessarily its only objective. The fact that the film is told from the perspective of a Swedish crew is central here. There’s a palpable innocence at work in the presentation of the material that puts the film in a kind of advantageous position, as its POV is free of much of the kind of intimacy that tends to make stateside discussions about the movement, its mantra and mission, contentious and volatile.

It’s an affecting journey through those crucial years – 1967 to 1975 – moving briskly over about 84 minutes, touching on such matters of importance at the time, like structural racism, the Vietnam war, rapidly rising levels of incarceration, extreme poverty, and lack of government accountability, while simultaneously working to provide some answers to questions of identity that were critical to the empowerment and education of subsequent generations, and some insight into where, in the grand scheme of things, America and Americans stand (or are headed) collectively today.

Director Olsson expressed interest in a potential sequel – or B-Side – to this “mixtape,” given the wealth of footage that was left on the proverbial cutting room floor. It’s certainly an idea that I can get behind.

“The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975” is currently streaming on Netflix, and is available on other home video formats (iTunes, Amazon, DVD, etc). You should see it if you haven’t. And even if you have, it’s worth a revisit. It’s a film that’s maybe now even more significant and speaks to the zeitgeist than when it was released 5 years ago.

Trailer below:



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