The Black Power Mixtape: 1967 – 1975
The Black Power Movement in America has been document to great lengths by American journalist, yet how did the rest of the world view the events unfolding in America during that era? Compiling found footage that was filmed by Swedish journalist from 1967 – 1975, director Göran Hugo Olsson’s latest film, The Black Power Mixtape: 1967 – 1975, tries to shed light on how the movement was portrayed in Swedish media.
Broken up into 9 chapters, one for every year, the film documents events including: Stokely Carmichael’s call for action, Dr. King’s war against the economic construct, the rise of the Black Panthers, The Nixon era, the Angela Davis trial, the riots in Attica, and the drug epidemic in Harlem in the early to mid 70’s. Olsson’s film really comes to life when it highlights candid moment with key figures in the movement such as one riveting interview with activist Angela Davis who was imprisoned for 18 months while her trial took place. Davis, who also provides commentary throughout the film, offers great insight by contrasting America’s fears of African-Americans resorting to violence with the violence that African-Americans have long had to endure. There is also footage of Carmichael giving a powerful speech to students in Stockholm. During his visit, a reporter catches on film a wonderful scene where Carmichael takes over an interview and asks his mother questions about the struggles their family has faced in America.
As fascinating as these moments are, it does expose one flaw in The Black Power Mixtape and that is its lack of a distinctive Swedish voice. In the very beginning of the film Olsson states that the film “does not presume to tell the whole story of the Black Power Movement, but to show how it was perceived by some Swedish filmmakers.” The problem is that many of the journalistic footage used adhere to standard journalistic practices. Therefore, if you take away the names of the reporters, the footage could have come from anywhere in the world. Despite a brief moment where TV Guide, of all magazines, accuses Sweden and Norway of painting America in a bad light, there is nothing in the film that really indicates what the Swedish really thought about the events unfolding in the States. This is especially perplexing as the film includes footage of Dr. Martin Luther King and Harry Belafonte when they were in Sweden. It would have been interesting to hear what the Swedish reporters, or the public at large, thought of their visit.
Although The Black Power Mixtape does not offer a “unique Swedish” take on the black power movement, there is still enough in Olsson’s film that makes this film mandatory viewing to those even remotely interested in the state of America at that time. The film offers good insight into the many facets of the Black Panther Party including their extensive work within the community. There is footage of the organization running a breakfast program, long before the school boards adopted the idea, and helping the poor members of the community get medical care and legal counsel. Another interesting aspect that the journalists touch on is Louis Farrakhan’s questionable rise to power within the Nation of Islam. Especially in regards to the numerous assassinations, including Malcolm X, and general corruption that took place within the organization.
One of the refreshing aspects of this documentary is the lack “talking heads” shots. While The Black Power Mixtape features commentary from the likes of Bobby Seales, Ahir “Questlove” Thompson, Angela Davis, Harry Belafonte, Abiodun Oyewole, Erykah Badu, Melvin Van Peebles, and John Forte, only their voice-overs are included in the film. The only footage of Seales, Davis and Belafonte are the ones that the Swedish journalists captured during the 60’s and 70’s. By eliminating the “talking heads”, Olsson allows the footage to resonate with the viewer. The images and interviews that the journalists captured serve as a reminder that although race relations in America have evolved since the rise of the Black Power Movement, the fight for equality is still far from over.