Director: Goran Olsson
Run time: 100 min
Just when you thought that we’ve explored every nook cranny and walk in closet of the chaotic, exhilarating cultural upheavals of mid-twentieth century America, there comes a fascinating scrapbook of odds and ends delivered from the unlikeliest of places; Sweden. Yes, though Gil Scott Heron sang that the revolution would not be televised, apparently much of it was shown in Europe, and Black Power Mixtape explores a treasure trove of footage shot by Swedish television journalists, some of whom got extraordinary access to now legendary figures that the U.S media often shunned. The likes of Angela Davis, Louis Farrakhan, Stokley Carmichael, and controversial Black Panther Party leader Bobby Seale are all seen, along with voice-overs from some of their contemporaries, like Melvin Van Peebles, and from modern artists that were inspired by them, such as Erika Badyu, Questlove and Talib Kweli. The result is an engaging but disjointed collage; an interesting assemblage of raw footage, but nothing that ever coalesces into a vital narrative.
The film chronicles the charged, radical and sometimes violent climate that developed in the inner cities after the killings of Malcolm X, RFK and MLK JR., and in the continuing tumult of the Vietnam War, and spotlights some of the most militant and brilliant voices of the era, some times in more intimate settings. Especially revealing is the fiery Carmichael in private, tenderly chatting with his mother about the personal toil of poverty and oppression.
Also compelling are the random street scenes, kids playing Double Dutch, and the proud proprietor of a Black studies bookstore showing off his wares. Some of this material is nostalgic and wistful, and some of it just as controversial now as it was then.
Harry Bellafonte, ever the flamethrower, outright calls Martin Luther King Jr.’s murder a government sponsored hit job, triggered not simply for his civil rights work, but his growing message of economic populism, which was bigger threat to the powers that be.
There is undeniable power in seeing our own near history seen through the prism of a foreign culture, yet the Swedes don’t seem to have any particular insight, aside from rubbernecking the exciting, perpetual train wreck of American democracy.
The creeping paternalism of the Europeans is subtle, but alarmingly creeps through in a scene of Swedish tourists on a bus ride through exotic Harlem, where the driver warns them to stay in the bus, because even the “better blacks” avoid the area. Still Black Power Mixtape is well intentioned, and will certain serve as reminder of where we used to be, and where we, as a society, would still like to go.
Now playing at the Royal Oak Landmark Main Art Theatre