The Black Power Mixtape is a remarkable, vivid and gently revisionist primary resource about one of the most misunderstood of American political movements. Inspired equally by the lives and, crucially, the violent deaths of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, Black Power advocates were unwilling to fully renounce violence the way King did, reserving it as a means of self-defense against police harassment and the many death threats African-American activists of the period received. Black Power advocates were labeled bomb-throwing militants in the American media of the late '60s and early '70s, and painted with a hysterical brush that reflected white paranoia during an era of social upheaval and civil unrest. How thoughtful and even humane the Black Power leadership could be is demonstrated again and again in Black Power Mixtape, especially in opening sequences chronicling and interviewing Stokely Carmichael during a European visit, and in a searing jailhouse interview with Angela Davis, conducted after she was accused of abetting a courthouse shooting (Davis was subsequently acquitted, and the charges are widely believed to have been politically motivated). A revelation and a game changer, The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 will surely have a measurable impact, not only with liberal documentary filmgoers and in film festivals, but also with any audience attuned to American culture and history.
From Josephine Baker to James Baldwin and beyond, Europe provided a safe haven for generations of African American artists, writers and activists during their long, and sometimes nightmarish march toward full U.S. rights and citizenship in the 20th century. In unearthing a remarkable trove of archival footage created by Swedish news crews who covered the post-MLK Black Power movement in the USA, filmmaker Göran Hugo Olsson has given Americans a new way of looking at one of the most vilified and romanticized American political awakenings. Rare and intimate interviews with still controversial figures like Carmichael, Davis and Louis Farrakhan, as well as footage of lesser known but equally articulate archetypes from parallel and more militant civil rights movements are coupled with rich and frequently moving footage of Harlem and other African-American enclaves during the era, and the effect is like stepping into a time machine and realizing how close we still are to the American political Dark Ages.
What distinguishes this film from any other survey of this topic is its anecdotal nature and its extremely objective tone. In contrast to the frequently panic-stricken American coverage of the day, this forgotten European material is thoughtful and exploratory, and the interviews themselves are virtually devoid of stridency on both sides. Faced by white, non-American film crews, the activists deemed anti-white racists and social menaces by the media at home responded in thoughtful, forthright, revealing and articulate ways; at time they were inspirational. Approached without rancor, the figures chronicled respond in kind, suggesting that their argument was what they claimed it to be: not a quarrel predicated on race itself, but anger about an American social and political context that was undeniably rigged to benefit a white majority at a black minority's expense.
Commentary from a range of contemporary social and political voices demonstrates how alive the film's concerns still are for activists and thinkers in the Obama era, and this helps to make these 40-year-old film clips feel timely and alive. If you think you know this era and this movement, you're wrong unless you've already seen The Black Power Mixtape .
Distributor: IFC Center
Director/Screenwriter: Göran Hugo Olsson
Producer: Annika Rogell
Genre: Documentary; English- and Swedish-languages, subtitled
Running time: 97 min.
Release date: September 9 NY/LA