*Swedish Filmmaker Göran Hugo Olsson has produced a fascinating documentary that anyone interested in black history should see. From the outset it juxtaposes the equalities of America with the inequalities and exposes the injustice, which lived just a few, miles from justice; the distance between the two was measured by race.
The archival 16mm black and white and colour footage shot by Swedish filmmakers, was unearthed from a basement of a TV station after 30 years. The film primarily focuses on Howard University Alumni Stokely Carmichael, who later changed his name to Kwame Ture, the Trinidad-American black activist. Carmichael was the leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and became the ‘Honorary Prime Minister’ of the Black Panther Party. Affiliated with Black Nationalist and Pan-Africanist movements, he popularized the term ‘Black Power’.
In the film which was co-produced by the actor Danny Glover, Olsson presents the eloquent orator Camichael making rousing speeches about Dr Martin Luther King and the bus boycott to largely white audiences. Carmichael analyzes the effectiveness of Dr King’s non-violence approach at the time.
The historical evidence is put into context be a series of interviews with musicians such as Erykah Badu, actors such as Melvin Van Peebles, poets such as Abiodun Oyewole and Sonia Sanchez, and professors such as John Forté and Robin Kelley, recorded in 2010. Rapper Talib Kweli is heard assessing Carmichael’s strengths, personality and legacy as we see Carmichael traveling around Europe. Kweli also tells an interesting tale about Carmichael inspiring one of his records and being investigated by the FBI/CIA after studying him; highlighting the threat that Carmichael’s ideas are sill perceived to be.
Olsson does a great job contextualizing the American Civil Rights movement amid the broader political scene with reference to the backdrop of the Vietnam War. The film reminded me of how much I love history. It is amazing to watch Carmichael interviewing his mother and hearing about growing up in poverty due to the discrimination is father faced. There are many revealing moments with footage of Carmichael singing in his hotel room and doing regular things.
The DVD takes each year between 1967 – 1975 in turn. By 1968 The Roots Ahmir ‘Questlove’ Thompson, who produced original music for the soundtrack alongside Om’Mas Keith, notes that Dr King’s assassination was no accident; as he moved towards a more militant anti-war position. Desegregation was one thing but economic power was another.
Actor Harry Belafonte provides insight into how Dr King felt in the last days of his life when he did not fear for his life, but instead for the quality of it. He aimed to fight new battles not on race but education, health and welfare. The DVD includes a clip from Dr King’s speech in Memphis the night before he was killed. It also shows Dr King in his casket. It highlights the deaths of other prominent black people in 1968 such as Civil Rights Activist Medgar Evers and Fred Hampton, as well as key moments in black history that year such as athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos’ 1968 Olympics Black Power salute at the Olympic Stadium in Mexico City, and incidents of policy brutality in America.
The DVD is moving in showing such palpable moments in history. A clip from Malcolm X’s 1964 Oxford Union debate is precious. Vox pops from black people on the streets of America of losing heroes such as John F Kennedy, Dr King and Robert Kennedy, and footage of poor mothers with multiple mouths to feed are just as meaningful. It is all the more moving to see such despair in the late sixties and look at where things stand today.
The film also features moments with Black Panthers, Bobby Seale and Kathleen and Eldridge Cleaver, and Huey P Newton who declares that new leaders are born and made, and highlights the important work the Black Panther party did introducing free clinics and free breakfast clubs – an initiative the American Government was to adopt. It can be disturbing to hear kids singing about guns but commentators such as Erykah Badu put into context the realities of self-defense and the extreme circumstances. The film charts the progress of the Black Panther Party as more members are arrested or killed; and the party in general moved towards socialism.
Political Activist and author Professor Angela Davis, the first woman on the FBI’s Most Wanted list, is another great commentator who contributes to the film on top of an intimate, candid and exclusive interview from her prison cell as a 26-year-old woman in 1970. With her trademark afro, wearing a red polo neck, brown skirt and red tights, Davis vividly recalls the scenes she witnessed as a youth including being stopped and searched by the police and her ties to one of the four little girls killed in the 1963 Birmingham Alabama church bombing.
The film is empowering and audiences can only thank the team, past and present, for being brave and passionate enough to tell this story, especially considering that in 1970, America’s TV Guide lambasted Swedish and Dutch TV for being anti-American in presenting an alternate interpretation of history.
The film highlights the advancement of the early seventies where black was beautiful and knowledge was power. It features an interview with Lewis H Michaux in 1973 at his iconic Harlem African National Memorial Bookstore, where Malcolm X spoke, and a year before it closed down.
By 1974 when Nixon resigned, Watergate was overshadowed in black communities by heroin, which the Government flooded the neighborhoods with. Even Vietnam Veterans returned with drug problems. Angela Davis aligns the influx of narcotics with the decline of military and revolutionary impulses. A few years after man had conquered the moon they struggled to combat earthly highs. A young female drug addict tells a particularly harrowing tale of abuse and prostitution; one can only hope she has beaten her demons.
As inner cities became gentrified, new leaders emerged such as the nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan who is also featured in the film. The story comes full circle analyzing the legacy of the black power movement; its rationale, radicalism and rhetoric, which has been referenced for other human rights movements. Erykah Badu notes the importance of black people documenting their history, though it is a Swedish team behind the production. It is important for people to document their history but when resources such as this are so valuable it matters less who produced it, and more who can benefit from it.
Black Power Mixtape 1967 – 1975 is out now from Soda Pictures priced £9.99.
The satirical special documentary feature, This Film Is Meant To Be About Stokely Carmichael about Carmichael’s British cousin and National Film and Television School alumni Isis Thompson’s struggles with identity, featuring Dami Akinnusi and Darcus Howe, will divide opinion.
The film premiered in UK cinemas during Black History month in October. It has already toured cities across America.
For more information visit: http://blackpowermixtape.com/
The UK Corner covers urban entertainment from a British perspective and is written by Fiona McKinson ©. She is a freelance journalist and creative writer based in London. Contact her. Visit her blog for more: http://thetalentshow.co.uk/theukcorner/