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Review - "The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975" (A Movement Remixed For A New Generation)

by Tambay A. Obenson
September 9, 2011 3:40 AM
5 Comments
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Opens today... reposting my review for that reason...

I think we could argue that the legacy of the Black Power Movement really hasn't been properly placed in context. 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.

Swedish director Goran Hugo Olsson's empowering Sundance 2011 entry, The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975, produced by Danny Glover, attempts to contextualizes the movement, at home and abroad, 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. 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 articulate 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. There was a smattering of applause and acknowledgment from the audience I screened the film with, which may have been more overwhelming, if the successive scene didn't insist on our attention.

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

All that archival footage combined with audio interviews from contemporary leading African American artists, activists, musicians and scholars, like Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson, and The Roots, 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 this 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 entertaining, so that even the most averse to documentaries 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 the 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 an advantageous position, as its POV is free of much of the kind of *baggage* 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 has 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 opens in New York tomorrow. IFC Film's will also make the film available On Demand (VOD) beginning on September 14th. A national theatrical roll-out can be expected if the film does well in its early release, starting with this weekend! So, if you're in NYC, you're strongly encouraged to see it!

Trailer below, and underneath, a brand new clip from the film, featuring a snip of a profile of then Stokely Carmichael (later Kwame Ture), accompanied by a Talib Kweli voiceover:


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5 Comments

  • James Madison | September 11, 2011 8:29 AMReply

    I had to say that there was an segment that Stokely Carmichael inteviwed his mother which I though was great, also there was a blurb on how J Edgar Hoover viewed the free food program that The Panthers started. Shocking. The audience reacted very strongly to it (as well as a lot of other scenes)

    Lastly, 2 more touching scenes - a heroin addicted baby. Really moved me. Also the scene where various people were talking about the passing of Icons like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and RFK.

    Again - a really good film.

  • James Madison | September 11, 2011 8:20 AMReply

    Just saw this tonight,

    It was a good film.

    My constructive criticism is that I wish that there was a narrative voice other than John Forte, Erykah Badu and some of the other in the film. I took it as maybe a deal the director made with Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson for doing the music. The commentary was not bad from these personalities, but I would have hoped there was more of a "activist" commentary rather than an entertainers commentary. To all of their credit - They made insightful observations and it was balanced with commentary by Angela Davis and Sonia Sanchez amongst others.

    As Tambay alluded to, if you are a student of this era, then there is nothing ground-breakingly new, but there is great interviews such as with Stokely Carmichael, and 2 moving interviews - One with a jail interview of Angela Davis where she passionately touched on how people always tend to concentrate on the violent aspects of revolution rather than the "end result."

    The other interview was with a young girl who talked about some things she had done in her life that made her family look at her with shame.

    I loved the segment that showcased TV guide and the tour bus that summed up Harlem as a ghetto.

    Black Power Mix Tape is definitely a must see. Good for those familiar with this era and good for those that are not.

    I will add it to my collection if it is released on DVD.

    P.S. I missed the director Goran Hugo Olsson q&a but before the filmed started at the 10:20 show, he said if anyone had any ideas on how to get the video seen - to libraries, universities, etc - please send any info to the movies website (And he was not complaining about the deal that he has now)

  • Nia | September 9, 2011 5:14 AMReply

    I really like the mix of old and new perspectives used in the documentary. I've heard so little about it outside of sites like Shadow and Act, but everything seems to be positive surrounding the film. I don't think alot of people my age know of the film or are even interested in going to see it...which is unfortunate. It looks like so much work and creativity went into the project. I wish things like this got more coverage. If it ever comes to Atlanta I would LOVE to see it.

  • James Madison | September 8, 2011 12:37 PMReply

    Ill check it this weekend.

  • Neziah | September 8, 2011 4:10 AMReply

    Nice review, this film has been on my radar for quite awhile, so it's nice to know that it delivers in spades. I'm not in NY, but if this film indeed has a national roll-out, I'm going to support it regardless.

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