*On Thursday (Feb. 9), PBS will premiere “Black Power Mixtape: 1967-1975,” a documentary that follows America’s black power movement and features interviews with many of its major players – including Stokely Carmichael, Angela Davis, Eldridge Cleaver and Elaine Brown.
Armed with 16 millimeter cameras, Swedish television journalists flew to America in the mid-60s to document the burgeoning black power movement. But all of their footage – which included interviews and b-roll of regular folk in Harlem, Brooklyn and Oakland – would not see the light of day for the next 30 years.
For some reason, the film canisters were placed in the cellar of the Swedish National Broadcasting Company and just sat there collecting cobwebs until 2005, when filmmaker Goran Hugo Olsson happened upon the footage and felt it was his duty to share this extended snapshot of American history.
“These Swedish filmmakers [were] coming to neighborhoods where my parents were spending time,” said Brooklyn-born rapper Talib Kweli at the Television Critics Association press tour in January. “My parents met at New York University in 1968, and then I was born in 1975. Both of them were very active in things that were going on as student movements at the time, and activism in New York. So [this film] just gives me a personal context for sort of the ideas that created me, you know.”
Kweli is among the contemporary interviews added by Olsson to enhance the rare footage that he pieced together into the documentary. Also providing commentary are Davis, Erykah Badu, Harry Belafonte, Kathleen Cleaver, Robin Kelley, Abiodun Oyewole, Sonia Sanchez, Bobby Seale and Questlove.
Actor Danny Glover signed on as a producer, while Kweli’s manager Corey Smith was responsible for many of the contemporary musicians called upon for the soundtrack.
“[Smith] saw the rough footage and he was very impressed with it. And he’s somebody who works, not just with me, but other artists in the music business,” said Kweli. “So he actually got the job of getting myself and Erykah Badu and Questlove and some of the other people who were involved to add music and add our voices to the situation. And it was as simple as that, and then I happened to actually be on tour in Sweden, and the filmmakers came by my hotel, and they sat there and showed me the film. And they just taped a conversation we had while I was watching the film.”
“Black Power Mixtape: 1967-1975,” a film under PBS’ Independent Lens, is scheduled to premiere at 10 p.m. on Thursday (Feb. 9) – but not all PBS markets choose to premiere it at this time. Click here to find out when the film airs in your market.
Below is a clip showing perhaps the most poignant moment of the documentary – a jailhouse interview with Angela Davis conducted by one of the Swedish filmmakers. In 1970, she was accused of purchasing the guns used in a Marin County, Calif. courthouse shooting that left six people dead, including a judge, a prosecutor, a jury member and three black men. (She was eventually acquitted by an all-white jury.)
Watch the interview below, then scroll down to hear Davis share her memories of the interview with TV critics last month.