Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Black Power Mixtape 1967-75

Directed by Göran Olsson.
2011. Not Rated, 100 minutes.
Angela Davis
Stokely Carmichael
Bobby Seale
Abiodun Oyewole
Harry Belafonte
Talib Kweli
Ahmir-Khalib “?uestlove” Thompson
Erykah Badu
Kathleen Cleaver
Robin Kelley

America’s tumultuous 1960s have been well documented. As you should know, this includes the Civil Rights Movement. Though large portions of what went on, particularly things not directly involving Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. or a Kennedy, are still obscure to the masses there is plenty of footage out there for one to begin to educate oneself. Of course, almost all of what has been available was shot and reported on by the American media or various civilians. The is where The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 differs. It was shot by Swedish media for their own news reports. This is footage most of us have never seen and with a point of view never heard. It’s also commented on by a number of famous African-Americans, seeing it for the first time themselves. Some of them lived through the era while others belong to a younger generation of entertainers and speak more to the lasting effects of the movement.

Much of our time is spent on three aspects: the work of Stokely Carmichael, the trial of Angela Davis and the rise and fall of the Black Panther Party. There are plenty of old interviews with those involved and commentary by the Swedes doing the reporting. It crystallizes the way at least one nation besides our own viewed what was going on. In a few instances we hear from Americans who actually went to Sweden during this time and reacted to the way things were being portrayed. Often, it’s eerily similar to the way we depict certain foreign situations. Imagine a country in which America is sympathetic to the rebels organizing against a corrupt government and “60 Minutes” or “Nightline” doing an exposé on this. That’s effectively what we’re shown. The difference is there is never any threat of Swedish intervention. They’re just curious to see how we will sort our mess.

The film moves forward in sections marked by the changing of each year in the title to the next, ending with ’75. This tactic provides a compressed, but eye-opening look at how much America changed, and some of the reasons why, in less than a decade. Still, this isn't a comprehensive history. We aren't inundated with details on the inner-workings of all things Civil Rights. As our timeline suggests, it’s more interested in what happened post-MLK, the more neglected portion of the movement. The title also tells us it is a mixtape. To oversimplify for those unaware, a mixtape is generally not a homogenized effort by the artist(s). It’s often music made between albums or a collection of the music of various performers mixed and edited in news ways. This is fitting for the movie because what we see was not originally shot with the intended purpose of making a documentary. It’s a collection of footage we’re not familiar with crafted into a poignant story-line.  Because of this, it has a freshness unexpected of a documentary highlighting events from roughly forty years ago.

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