Film Review: The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975

Are you tired of Black struggle-themed movies such as To Kill a Mockingbird, Cry Freedom and The Help, wherein white characters have the lead roles and are the protagonists?  Astoundingly, in Hollywood version of the Civil Rights Movement, 1988’s Mississippi Burning, Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe’s FBI agents are the heroes – not Medgar Evers or Martin Luther King (whom the Bureau’s Director, J. Edgar Hoover, notoriously surveilled and harassed).

An antidote to these celluloid stereotypes is the great newly released documentary The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975, which contains interviews with and footage of the era’s African American (or, as Stokely Carmichael would say, “Africans in America”) leaders.

From 1967 to 1975 Swedish journalists traveled from Sweden to the U.S., covering the Black cause. According to the documentary’s press notes, this treasure trove of “16mm footage” was “lying undiscovered in the cellar of Swedish Television for 30 years.”  That is, until director Göran Hugo Olsson brought the neglected yet still powerful imagery to the attention of the production company Louverture Films, and co-producers Danny Glover and Joslyn Barnes got involved with the long languishing project, which, at long last, begins its U.S. theatrical release Sept. 23.

Olsson co-edited the hours of material together, giving it the shape of that era’s “mixtapes,” compilations of songs often on audio cassette or 8 track tapes.  The activists who appear onscreen form a virtual who’s who of the era’s Black Liberation movement, with the notable exception of H. Rap Brown.  They include: Black Panthers Bobby Seale, Huey Newton, Kathleen Cleaver, Eldridge Cleaver, filmmaker Melvin Van Peebles and singer Harry Belafonte.

The Black Power Mixtape is also full of surprises, including revealing behind the scenes glimpses of the doc’s subjects.  Near the film’s beginning, Stokely Carmichael of the Student Nonviolent (later National) Coordinating Committee, is seen being interviewed with – get this – his mother.  Stokely (later aka Kwame Ture, a combination of two African independence leaders’ names) discusses with his mom the causes of his family’s woes, which, he inexorably reveals, boil down to racism.

Also revelatory is the interview with Communist Party member Angela Davis, glorious Afro an all, conducted behind bars, where she was being held in connection to the Marin County Courthouse shootout involving so-called “Soledad Brother” and Panther George Jackson and his younger brother Jonathan.  Following a national manhunt, Angela was finally nabbed, although she was eventually cleared of being involved in the Marin County gunfight.  During her prison interview Angela contends that the case against her is really an attempt to not only silence but execute one of the nation’s leading Black voices.  She is also eloquently astounded that the Caucasian interviewer is asking her about violence, when she and her people have, for so long, been victims of violent persecution.  Among other things, Angela discusses knowing the little girls who were bombed at that church in Birmingham, Alabama, where Angela grew up.

Another surprise is coverage of a very young Louis Farrakhan, before he became the head of the Nation of Islam.  Some viewers may be confused by the inclusion of footage of that apostle of nonviolence, Dr. King.  But in an interview with this writer co-producer Danny Glover, a longtime political activist dating back to the 1968 San Francisco State student strike, contended that the demarcation line between the Civil Rights and Black Power movements are not so sharply defined.  Instead, Glover contends that “Black Power Movement is not a separation of the Civil Rights Movement but a continuum of this whole process of democratization.”  The inclusion of MLK in this documentary also eloquently argues this point.

Some leftist Caucasian supporters of the cause also appear onscreen: Attorney William Kunstler and filmmaker Emile de Antonio.  The Black Power Mixtape is in the de Antonio radical documentary tradition that Glover says, “brings us closer to the voices we heard at that period of time… And it’s an opportunity through information to provide another discussion of the period.”

This revolutionary doc is directly from first person sources, straight out of the proverbial horse’s mouth, and has the immediacy of the now.  The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 is a powerful learning and emotional experience and absolute must see viewing for anybody interested in that era, struggle and the racial injustices that continue to plague America.  All motion picture power to the people!

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