The Black Power Mixtape 1965-1975 is one of the most spectacularly moving documentaries of radical American history released in 2011, and is sure to be like nothing you’ve seen before. The documentary is composed of film shot by a Swedish news crew following the Black Power movement through the socially explosive era of the 60’s and 70’s. The news reels sat forgotten in a basement archival storage for over 30 years until Swedish documentary filmmaker Göran Olsson brushed off the dust. His resulting work won a Sundance Film Festival award for editing.
What I enjoyed about this documentary was the style. Man, was it cool. It takes the revolutionary spirit of those times and makes it contagious. You can’t help but feel yourself get caught up in the sense of urgency. I do admit, I was tempted several times to throw up my fist. The original Swedish crew takes the viewer deep into the Black Power movement by visiting the Black Panther headquarters in Oakland, the liberation rallies, Harlem ghettos, and prisons, to show the period in its rawest and most unapologetic form. The interviews are charged with the turmoil of a society divided by racial violence. Some of the un-politically correct statements are sure offend some viewers. We get to hear directly from leaders in the revolution speak out for themselves in their manner that is so iconic to the 60’s and 70’s. There are appearances by civil rights giants such as Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Huey Newton, Bobby Seale, Angela Davis, Eldridge Cleaver, and Stokely Charmichael. Angela Davis’s interview is undeterred despite being conducted while incarcerated. Her fierce intellect still has the passion and power to move even the newest generation.
Don’t expect a concise depiction of the Black Power movement. As the name implies, it is more of a mixtape highlighting the movement’s greatest hits. The soundtrack itself is a mixtape of the soul, funk, and jazz that embodied the era. While many critiques dwell on the lack of historical cohesion, they miss the point that this documentary is supposed to function similar to a time capsule. Either way, the Black Power movement is far too vast and complex of an American phenomenon to ever be explained in 100 minutes. Even the interviewees towards the end urge people to read because “Knowledge is king.” The only problem I had with the film was that the modern commentators were almost exclusively recording artist rather than political activist, social scientist, or university professors. Yet the film is never lacking in message.
The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 is a super stylish film that makes it fashionable to be intelligent again. It’s a motion picture scrapbook put together by this generation from the memories and history of another. This history is a troubled history, it will engage you directly. You can’t help but feel activated to continue the struggle for a more equal world. I hope you watch and enjoy this great documentary. Let me end this review by honoring all those in the fighting against fascism everywhere. Power to the people.