The Black Power Mixtape: Review

THE BLACK POWER MIXTAPE 1967-1975 is a new documentary made from 16mm films taken by Swedish journalists, who covered the Black Power movement from the late 1960s to early 1970s.

This includes never-before seen interviews and footage of Stokely Carmichael, Martin Luther King, Eldridge Cleaver, and Angela Davis (the latter during her imprisonment and trial in 1972).

The footage sat in a basement for 30 years, and it’s a remarkable find. Director Göran Hugo Olsson shaped the footage to form a narrative in 9 chapters, one chapter for each year. The film adds contemporary voice-overs from poets Sonia Sanchez and Abiodun Oyewole, musicians Erykah Badu and John Forté, historian Robin Kelley, and others.

While the Black Power movement may be too big to squeeze into a short documentary (the run time is barely over 90 minutes), you come away with a significant understanding of the events and people who participated and shaped the time.

Olsson’s decision to create a strict chronological story, moving from year to year, is the film’s strength. You literally see, hear, and feel change happening on-screen. The archival footage includes public appearances and speeches that are profound and sharp, like Eldridge Cleaver calling out 1968′s presidential candidates as “three pigs: oink Nixon, oink Humphrey, and oink Wallace.”

But the film also reveals personal moments that are no less effective; for example, Stokely Carmichael interviews his mother about their early family life. Carmichael gently pokes and prods, but the questions get more pointed and we learn how his father was often the first one laid off from a job.

“Why was he the first one laid off?” he asks. “Because he was a colored man,” his mother answers, an exchange that is both poignant and incisive for its context and meaning.

The crisp and immediate images give the now-familiar touchstones of black history, such as MLK’s Nobel Prize, and his final speech on the night before he was assassinated, a new immediacy and import, as if we’re seeing them for the first time.

The year MLK was killed is of course also significant for Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination and the murder of . And footage of young black men and women shortly thereafter is a key point in the film. In this moment when so many leaders are being killed, everyone interviewed on-camera tell reporters they feel “there is no future,” and that they “have no hope left.”

As we enter the 1970s, the Southern roots of the movement fade, and we witness the beginnings of the Black Panther Party. The setting also shifts from public to private: large auditoriums and public spaces are replaced by houses and apartments, or a detention cell, the inside of a dealer’s car.

This is an urban mise-en-scene populated not just by the newsmakers and boldfaced names, but by everyday people.

The later chapters take place almost entirely in Harlem of the 1970s, where we glimpse a population struggling with poverty, disenfranchisement, and drug addiction. By the time Louis Farrakhan appears on-screen, and we’ve reached the middle of the decade, we’ve been on a journey that shows the evolution of a southern nonviolent movement into a more northern, urban-set base.

Although the people and events we’ve witnessed are an enormous part of who and what the United States is today, there is still the feeling of a parallel narrative—a story happening “somewhere else” to other people that the dominant, white, middle-class culture chose to marginalize and ignore. But as The Black Power Mixtape proves, the issues Americans faced then—war, income inequality, and racism—remain with us today.

Watch the trailer of The Black Power Mixtape: