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:

One Day On Earth: The Other Crowdsourced Documentary

CAN ALL OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE BE CAPTURED ON VIDEO in one 24-hour period? Last week Sundance featured the splashy premiere of Life in a Day, the crowdsourced, collaborative documentary that aimed to capture everything happening on July 24, 2010. Spearheaded by Kevin MacDonald and Ridley Scott, the film was broadcast live on YouTube and met with rapturous reviews.

But there’s another crowdsourced documentary out there with a little less Hollywood and much more of a social media slant: One Day on Earth.

One Day on Earth also documents a 24 hour period and took place last October, on the numerically auspicious 10.10.10. Unlike Macdonald’s and Scott’s project, One Day on Earth aims to create and support a global community of filmmakers: professional, grassroots, and everything in-between.

The video archive of all the clips submitted are now online.

Five Places to Watch Social Change Documentaries & Videos

CAN FILM AND VIDEO change the world? Independent media by filmmakers, advocates, and citizen journalists must be heard and seen to affect social change—but where can you go to hear their message, and join the conversation?

Here are the best places to watch social change documentaries and videos—some are glossy productions while others are citizen-driven projects. All are working to make a difference:

1. Culture Unplugged


Culture Unplugged offers a variety of social issue films “by and for a global community of conscious storytellers.” You can search by genre, categories, popularity, and even duration. In addition, the site features its own online festivals: an upcoming theme is “Humanity Explored.”

WHAT TO WATCH: The Boy Who Plays on the Buddhas of Bamiyan, a story about Mir, the eight-year old who lives among the ruins of the religious statues that once stood in Afghanistan.



Witness is a pioneer in using video for social justice. They recently announced a new online strategy for their video platform, The Hub, which is morphing into an archive of over 3,000 videos.

WHAT TO WATCH: “Alien vs. Predator” is about the thousands of undocumented immigrants who graduate U.S. high school and are then targeted for recruitment by the military.


Created from the Canadian National Film Board of Canada (NFB) in 2004, CITIZENShift focuses on community-led documentary filmmaking (as well as photography, articles, blogs, and podcasts). You can contribute text, photos, audio and video to one of the site’s existing “dossiers,” or propose a new topic.

WHAT TO WATCH: The dossier feature “Five Centuries Later…” is about the difficult times facing the Indians of Guatemala and Bolivia, five centuries after the “discovery” of America by the Europeans.

4. Media That Matters

Media That Matters, now in its tenth year, presents an annual film festival of twelve new shorts. The films are distributed and broadcast nationally to educators and activists. You can stream all the films from the last ten years at the site.

WHAT TO WATCH: “Will I Be Next?” explores the issue of gun violence in Chicago. Winner of the Youth Voice Award in 2009.

5. Link TV

Broadcaster Link TV and its website,, focuses on stories and issues not usually covered by the mainstream U.S. media. The site features over 4,000 videos and programs for streaming.

WHAT TO WATCH: Earth Focus is the channel’s environmental news magazine. In this episode, it examines the growth of the Environmental Film Festival.

Women, Art, Revolution: The Not-So Secret History of the Feminist Art Movement


!Women Art Revolution is a film by Lynn Hershman Leeson that traces the creation of the Feminist Art Movement from its very beginnings in the 1970s to the present day. It’s been selected to the Toronto Film Festival documentary lineup and will have its international premiere on September 12.

But you don’t have to travel to Toronto or wait until the doc is released to take advantage of the filmmaker’s groundbreaking work. Stanford University is hosting the complete !WAR interviews, online and available to all.

Among the many artists profiled you can watch video of Judy Chicago, Yvonne Rainer, the Guerrilla Girls, and Marcia Tucker. The archive also includes transcripts and biographies of the artists profiled in the film—an invaluable resource about the history of art, feminism, and political movements of the 20th century.

In these conversations it’s possible to see the great impact these women made on our artistic and political history, when those two elements became one and fed each other. You also begin to realize how largely unacknowledged their contribution has been. Now Lynn Hershman Leeson’s fill can change all that.

Watch the trailer for !Women, Art, Revolution: A (Formerly!) Secret History:

Top Tweets for Activists (Week Ending August 13)

Welcome to Top Tweets for Activists: a selection of the week’s best tweets, blog posts, media, and news stories.

If you’d like to suggest a topic or news story, please leave a link in the Comments.


HAITI: Haitian Women Testify about Gender Based Violence via @yvettethijm


Sri Lanka: Will US state depart commit to human rights in Sri Lanka after Congress calls for investigation? @amnesty


India/Pakistan: “It’s heartening to see a lot of tourists helping out in camps” – SEEDS India on Indian floods @AlertNet

Press Freedom/Equatorial Guinea: CPJ, partner groups urge UNESCO to pull Obiang prize @pressfreedom

Sudan: Here’s a FACTBOX on what may hamper south Sudan’s vote on independence @AlertNet

SriLanka: Sri Lanka panel warns that ‘conflict threat’ remains @AllysonNeville


Gaming the System“: Study Details How Big Banks are Avoiding Lending Obligations Under Community Reinvestment Act @democracynow


Why the 14th Amendment Is a Feminist Issue @change


Ethiopia wants end of food aid in five years @AfricaHand

If you had the opportunity to speak to world leaders, what would you say? via @WeCanEndPoverty


Is “clictivism” ruining activism? @guardian

Graffiti Artists Tag for Freedom of Expression

Six graffiti artists teamed up with Amnesty International this past weekend during the Edinburgh Festival to raise awareness for freedom of expression. The artists each painted a case of freedom of expression from Amnesty’s history, 1961 to the present, to be included in a special exhibition. Also part of the day was a live graffiti performance to raise awareness for political prisoners in Burma.

The live graffiti event marked the anniversary of the beginning of a peaceful protest movement in 1988, which became known as the Generation 88.

In attendance for the painting of the mural was Waihnin Pwint Thon, whose father was one of the leaders of the movement. He remains a political prisoner today, sentenced to 65 years in jail.

Read more about the event and learn about all the participating artists, including:

Amy Whiten, aka Syrkus, painting her mural about Argentina’s Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo:

Elph working on a painting about Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who was assassinated in 2006 following her reporting of the war in Chechnya:

Social Documentary Photography: 3 Sites Bringing Awareness and Change

Social documentary photography, unlike news photography, strives to bring attention to social causes. The work of these photographers might anger, shock, or inspire action—they are voices speaking through images.

Here are 3 sites where you can see the work of photographers practicing activism through photography:


© Marielle van Uitert/ is a member organization for photographers, NGOs, students, photo editors, and the general public. The site currently features over 200 exhibits, and you can view photos by country or photographer. The works featured are as diverse as the Tea Party in America to urban horses.


The PhotoPhilanthropy‘s tagline is “we champion social change, one photo at a time.” In addition to galleries, the organization hosts programs and provides grants to photographers and nonprofits.

Collective Lens

Collective Lens is a site for individuals and nonprofits to upload their photos and promote a cause or bring awareness to an issue. The site is also developing a gallery of student work and is reaching out to classrooms to promote photojournalism and social change.



Presumed Guilty: The Injustices of Mexico’s Justice System

IN DECEMBER 2005 Antonio “Toño” Zúñiga, a young man who worked as a street vendor in Mexico City, was abducted by police and accused of a murder he didn’t commit. He was held without charge, and there was no physical evidence connecting him to the crime. He had no link to the victim, and no motive. Witnesses could testify he was working at the market and provide an airtight alibi for the time of the murder.

Despite this, Toño was found guilty and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Presumed Guilty, which airs tonight on PBS, is his story, as well as the story of Roberto Hernández and Layda Negrete, two self-described “lawyers with cameras” who are determined to expose a deeply flawed Mexican legal system which has no presumption of innocence.

Hernandez and Negrete gained unprecedented access to the prison where Toño is held, as well as to the “courtrooms” where justice is meted out. It’s not surprising to learn that the prison and justice rooms are part of the same building complex. The film will be shocking to anyone who is unfamiliar with the way the criminal justice system works (or doesn’t work) in Mexico.

According to the film, the majority of the accused never see an arrest warrant. They are not brought before a judge, or a jury of peers. The conviction rate in Mexico City is 95 percent, with 92 percent of those verdicts lacking physical evidence.

Arrest-to-prison is a lightning-fast process, but ironically, this process generates reams and reams of paperwork. One of the film’s lasting images is of a room of wall-to-wall metal shelving, overflowing with bound books of “evidence.”

The filmmakers’ unrelenting research into Toño’s case earns them a retrial. And, in the film’s real coup, they are then allowed to film the proceedings. The retrial lasts from November 2007 to February 2008, and these scenes in the “courtroom,” which more or less resembles an American-style DMW, are riveting.

This is because Toño must mount his own defense, standing behind a small window blocked by iron bars. With coaching and support from Hernandez and Negrete, Toño faces the judge who originally sentenced him, Hector Palomares; he cross-examines the only “eyewitness,” a gang member; and tries to break down the arresting detectives, who stick to their wall of silence by answering every question with “I don’t remember.”

These scenes are also very effective for the actions of a savvy and charismatic defense lawyer, Rafael Heredia, who pokes, prods and challenges the judge, detectives and especially a by-the-numbers prosecutor who sits looking bored and amused throughout the whole ordeal.

The film is a tour-de-force for constitutional law junkies. And for those who like David vs. Goliath stories. It is a very human story as well. It exposes the weaknesses in large systems and questions the motives of those in authority. It challenges viewers to ask why. It will make you angry at the injustice that goes on today for so many people like Toño. It is honest, and moving.

Presumed Guilty airs on PBS stations Tuesday, July 27th.

Five Ways You Can Change the World Today

Photo © NASA

Write a letter. In this gadget-and-screen oriented world we live in, handwritten messages have been forgotten, but the power of the pen is as strong, and vital, as ever. This blog is about human rights, so my destination for change is Amnesty’s Freedom Writers Network which highlights active appeal cases and even supplies me with a sample letter I can mail.

Whatever it is you are passionate about—animal rights, the environment, housing—there’s a group or individual out there who can make a difference. Find out whose attention you need and then get writing.

Meditate. Meditation is a wonderful practice to clear the mind and bring awareness. With mindfulness, we’re better able to meet what life brings us. We can be more creative and compassionate. And best of all, you already know how to meditate, because you already know how to breathe.

Here’s how: pick a quiet spot, set a timer (10 or 15 minutes to start), then focus on each inhale and exhale. Observe the thoughts that come up, but stay focused on the breathing. Note each thought (e.g., “I am thinking about my job”) and then let it go. Come back to your breathing.

It’s like a power nap, except you’re awake in the here and now.

Stop driving. In his post “How You Can Actually Help With the Gulf Oil Spill“, Everett Bogue advocates giving up your car. Now.

Can’t give it up just yet? How about taking public transport for one day, or biking to work or to the store. Take a car break for a week. Then a whole month. It’s a big change, but especially today, completely necessary.

Don’t buy anything. Here’s a few ways: bring your lunch to work. Have coffee from the machine at the office or make it at home and thermos-it. Don’t forget to pack the apple or peanut butter so you can have a day off from the vending machines.

And skip the online shopping.

Suddenly your wallet got a little fatter and you might even be healthier, too.

Share your knowledge. What are you good at? Math whiz? English major? Hockey? Knitting? There’s someone, or many someones, who can benefit from your skills. Volunteer and share. There’s no greater rush than helping others.

What ways will you practice changing the world today?

How the Russians Continue to Censor Artists

This week The Economist reported how Russian prosecutors are demanding a three-year jail sentence for the organizers of a contemporary art exhibition. “Forbidden Art” symbolically displayed art banned from previous shows and was shown in March 2007 at the Sakharov Museum and Public Center, a forum for human rights and named after the late Russian physicist and dissident, Andrei Sakharov.

It is evident a broad crackdown on cultural freedom is coming, and hints at an even worse ideological turn, because Russia’s religious orthodoxy feels threatened.

Insiders point to the militant religious radicals who called for the trial and fear that

“once the radicals and fundamentalists smell blood they will become even more aggressive and persistent in their efforts to turn Russia into a version of Ahmadinejad’s Iran. That will, in turn, provoke a powerful reaction from the educated public, especially among young people. To think that this trial would have no impact on the lives of people in Russia is as naïve as it was to imagine seven years ago that the arrest of Mikhail Khodorkovsky would have no impact on business and politics.”

Equating art with a criminal offense is a typical way totalitarian governments begin to shut down a society’s voice. In recent years Russia took steps to improve its image on the world stage. But you don’t have to dig far to get past this false surface.

When it counts, it is clear nothing has changed; it’s all smoke and mirrors. If Russia were truly committed to human rights, it would do so in actions and policy. They say one thing and do another. But no modern nation can exist without creative freedom.

Learn more about the exhibition and trial from Rights in Russia, a website devoted to providing information about human rights in Russia in the English language.