Today: May 29, 2024

The Black Power Mixtape

In the late 1960s, Swedish television acquired an interest in the American Civil Rights movement. Over the course of nine years, various journalists and filmmakers travelled from Sweden to America in order to conduct interviews with prominent African Americans and shoot footage of life in Black areas. After being used

In the late 1960s, Swedish
television acquired an interest in the American Civil Rights movement. Over the course of nine years, various
journalists and filmmakers travelled from Sweden to America in order to conduct
interviews with prominent African Americans and shoot footage of life in Black
areas. After being used in Swedish TV programmes, this historical footage was
stuck in a vault and forgotten about until the Swedish documentary filmmaker Göran Hugo Olsson decided to
unearth it and put it to work. The
result is Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975,
a documentary that uses both historical footage and contemporary commentary to
shed light on both the American civil rights movement and Swedish attitudes to
this political struggle.

The most impressive elements of this documentary are the interviews and footage of the
Black Panther movement. Unfairly
tarnished by (white) history as violent extremists, Black Power Mixtape reveals
the Panthers to be a community-minded organisation who fed and clothed the poor
and the needy while their leaders forged bonds with the rest of the 1960s
counter-cultural movement. Best
known for their confrontational attitudes, the documentary’s interviews make it
clear that the Panthers’ rhetoric is indistinguishable from that of
revolutionary socialism while their fondness for stock-piling weapons is
grounded in the rhetoric of self-defence that the NRA uses to block attempts at
gun control. In other words, while history has come to see the Black Panthers
as the unacceptable underside of Martin
Luther King
’s beautiful dream, the truth is that both the rhetoric and the
actions of the Black Panthers are judged far more charitably when the activists
that adopt them happen to be White.
Clearly, when the White man buys a gun in order to defend his family, he
is a patriot. When the Black man
does the same, he is a mad dog that needs to be put down.

Black Power Mixtape does an
excellent job of communicating how the Black Panther movement grew and grew
until it provoked a reaction from the government. Within a few years, the leaders of the Panthers went from
being celebrated to being targeted by ambitious politicians looking to score a
few points by locking up some political dissidents. As time passes, you can see the optimism drain from the
faces of the Panthers leadership.
Particularly powerful is an interview conducted in prison with the
notable African American intellectual Angela Davis who blinks back the tears as
she talks about her childhood in Alabama and the need for Black people to work
together and defend themselves.

Sadly, once the Black Power Mixtape
shifts its emphasis from the Black Panthers to the Nation of Islam and the War
on Drugs, the documentary begins to lose both its precision and its power. An interview with Louis Farrakhan is
eerie in its fantastical delusions and the documentary’s uncritical attitude
towards the idea that the Nation of Islam offers a disciplined lifestyle heralds
the arrival of a number of bizarre conspiracy theories including the somewhat
inconsistent view that the authorities both turned a blind-eye to the drug
trade in Black areas and cracked down
on the drug trade in Black areas in a way that damaged the community and
undermined the pursuit of civil rights.

Equally unconvincing are the
documentary’s attempts to articulate the Swedish perspective on the civil
rights movement. While the amusing
footage of Swedish tourists travelling round Harlem in a bus suggests that
there is something vaguely inauthentic about Swedish concern for American civil
rights, the documentary never manages to articulate what it is that is
particularly Swedish about any of the footage or the interviews. Frankly, these
could have come from the vaults of any European television station.

While Black Power Mixtape features
some fascinating footage and some insightful commentary from contemporary
talking heads, it is clearly a short documentary about the Black Panther party
that was over-extended into a feature length documentary film. The precision,
substance and power of the early chapters simply are not present in the film’s
account of the mid to early seventies and, as a result, Black Power Mixtape is
uneven and unfocused despite moments of brilliance.

Alex Moss Editor

Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email: alex.moss@filmjuice.com

Previous Story

Young Adult

Next Story

Avengers Assemble

Latest from Blog

Memory

Memory (2023)

Memory is an exquisite American drama in the tender embrace of Michel Franco’s cinematic prowess.

Abashiri Prison I-III

Constructed in the late nineteenth century to house political prisoners, Japan’s infamous Abashiri Prison served as the inspiration for a popular and prolific run of yakuza movies released between 1965 and 1972. In Abashiri Prison,

The Beach Boys

2024 sees the 50th anniversary of The Beach Boys’ chart-topping compilation album Endless Summer that threw the fading band back into the limelight. Whilst this double LP release was a big financial

The Valiant Ones

The Valiant Ones was King Hu’s last, great masterpiece. Indeed it’s arguably his last true wuxia film — but what a magnificent beast it is. Directed by the celebrated master of the

Enter the Clones of Bruce Unboxing

There have been so many books, documentaries, and even biopics of the immeasurably pioneering martial arts icon Bruce Lee. His life and work have been studied intensely, and his influence remains felt

BackBeat Unboxing

This month saw underrated Beatle-biopic BackBeat make its Blu-ray debut from Fabulous Films, surely delighting the band’s collectors and completists. Telling the story of the Beatles’ first bassist – the so-called ‘lost
Go toTop