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Jefferson Root Written by Jefferson Root
Sep. 22, 2011 | 12:48 PM

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It’s not hard to see why the outsider’s perspective has such a rich tradition in Cinema.  Insider tales have much to offer as well, but telling a story from the outside looking in often has the powerful effect of allowing us to see ourselves with fresh eyes.  In one of the more unlikely outsider tales in recent memory, Swedish director Goran Olsson has delivered The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975

Using recently discovered archival footage from the period shot by a crew of Swedish journalists, the film features pristine 16mm interviews with Stokely Carmichael, Angela Davis, Bobby Seale and others who were on the vanguard of a particularly tumultuous period of U.S. History.  The film is an invaluable document of the period, and part of what makes it so amazing is that it probably never could’ve been made by an American.  Now, thanks to a team of producers, including actor Danny Glover, this engrossing snapshot of the period is now available via the Sundance Selects on-demand cable platform, and the film will open this weekend in a number of U.S. theatres.

The footage assembled by Olsson here was found in the basement of Swedish Television, where it had lain undiscovered for 30 years.  With the war in Vietnam escalating, a crew of Swedish journalists travelled to the U.S. to investigate the Black Power phenomenon, which was being portrayed in the U.S. media as a violent, neo-terrorist movement.  Displaying dogged determination, and more than a little naivete, the filmmakers were able to secure interviews with many of the leaders of the movement, with illuminating results.

To ensure that the film would be relevant to modern audiences, Olsson took the inspired step of having notable contemporary African-Americans to provide voicover narration for the film.  Surviving icons from the period like Davis and Seale provide more recent reflections and the film also features 2010 commentaries from Erykah Badu, Talib Kweli and Roots drummer Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson.  Any doubts as to the enduring impact of the movement are put to rest early in the film as Kweli recounts a story of his recent detainment by Airport Security.  His crime?  Listening to Stokely Carmichael speeches from 1967.  Kweli marvels that of all the things he could do to attract the attention of the feds, that they seemed most concerned that he was listening to recordings that were over forty years old.

The film is divided into nine sections, one for each year, and the chapter devoted to Carmichael hooks the viewer in right away.  Although he was one of the most outspoken leaders of the Black Power movement,  we also get to see his playful side, as when he grabs the microphone from the Swedish crew and begins conducting an interview with his mother.  Carmichael goes on to offer a series of profound reflections on the legacy of Martin Luther King.  First making it clear that he in no way agreed with King’s philosophy of nonviolence, he points out that one of King’s greatest accomplishments was revealing the true nature of his movement’s enemies. 

Olsson is attempting to synthesize a lot of material here, and the film loses some focus as the time frame moves into the 70’s.  The film explores the ways in which the concept of Black Power and people’s movements have struggled to maintain their currency over the years,  but this material doesn’t resonate in quite the same way as the earlier interview footage. 

The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 means to challenge the viewer, and succeeds.  Many of the battles illustrated in the film are still being fought today.  A new Martin Luther King, Jr memorial is about to be dedicated in Washington, but a squabble over the statue’s inscribed quote from King reveals the ongoing struggle to define his legacy.  The film concludes on a positive note, encouraging the viewers to join in the struggle for reforms that will empower all segments of the population.  Watching this film is a great place to start.

The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 opens Friday, September 23rd at the NuArt Theatre in West Los Angeles.

The 7:30 screening will be followed by a panel discussion with film subjects former Head of Los Angeles Black Panther Party-Professor Ericka Huggins and USC Professor Robin Kelley. Panel & discussion will be moderated by Margaret Prescod of KPFK’s Sojourner Truth.



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