Whatever your opinion on the politics expressed in Goran Hugo Olsson's The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975, it is absolutely vital to take a brief moment and appreciate the fact that the footage featured in the film was preserved, uncovered and capably curated into a undeniably compelling narrative. Utilizing Swedish coverage of a volatile time in America and an especially challenging set of years for the African American community amidst an ongoing battle for civil rights, The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 is impressive in its clarity, offered via the original footage and commentary, courtesy of surviving vital figures (Angela Davis and Kathleen Cleaver) and more current cultural explorers, including musicians Talib Kweli and Erykah Badu.
The opening year, 1967, is specific with intent – following in the footsteps of legislation passed to ensure equal rights for black Americans, the decade would close out mournfully, as Martin Luther King Jr. joined a list of monumental figures cut down in their prime. Olsson's work seems to capture the events stemming from a decade alternating joy and grief, and a rise of a militant mentality stemming from an inability to obtain equality by peaceful means. The perception of African Americans as continuously segregated in disenfranchised ghettos and facing discrimination on a professional level certainly fed into an idea of a self-empowered organization devoted to protection and upraise of a community.
The Swedish journalists who covered what would grow to be the Black Power moment were certainly not unbiased, offering clear support for activists like the steely Stokely Carmichael and the soft-spoken but firm Angela Davis. Both figures feature heavily in the doc, in particular Davis, whose notorious trial presents us with one of the film's most crucial scenes – an interview with Davis behind bars, with the young woman expanding on her understanding of identity, hate, and the regretful inevitability of violence in the middle of a revolution.
By allowing Kweli, Badu, ?uestlove (who also provides the non-invasive but certainly helpful soundtrack) and other younger men and women comment on the footage and link their own experiences to the struggles of key members of the Black Power movement, The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 helps shape a rich portrait of African American cultural pride and the difficult endeavor to find a right way to move forward. Olsson did not set out to orient the viewer via a standard breakdown of events, but rather to capture a mood viewed through an intellectual lens that was distinctively not American – while American education has frequently skewed in favor of teaching little regarding the Black Panthers aside from mentioning their tumultuous buildup and the clashes that followed, but the journalism offered here paints a complex portrait that deserves to been.
Frankly, even without the proper background spelled out to the average viewer, the “mixtape” moniker serves the documentary very well. This is but a taste, a mix of moments, punctuated by heavy emotions and casting a long shadow that extends into the current future and movements happening right here and now. The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 never promises a fuller story than it delivers, but piques interest with a combination of carefully selected footage that does build a narrative, however slight, and takes note of the chorus of voices that fill it out. It is a patchwork of opinions, sometimes unified, frequently differing but always illuminating.
DVD Bonus Features
The extras don't disappoint, although they do offer telling evidence that there's plenty more footage out there to be utilized. Among the bonus features are a full Carmichael segment and a full Louis Farrakhan interview, both of which are chopped up into bits in the actual film. Also available are two “World in Focus” episodes – a Swedish news show that covers Angela Davis and Shirley Chisholm, familiar to many as the first female African American presidential candidate. A brief segment on Joan Little, a black woman whose hugely influential trial for the murder of a jailer who attempted to rape her help left an indelible mark on the feminist and civil rights movements, is included. A trailer for the film rounds out the show.
"The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975" is on sale December 13, 2012 and is not rated. Documentary. Directed by Goran Olsson. Written by Göran Olsson (creator). Starring Bobby Seale, Stokely Carmichael, Angela Davis, Talib Kweli.