BLACK POWER MIX TAPE 1967-1975 (2011)
Compiled from 16mm footage that had been lying undiscovered in the cellar of Swedish Television for 30 years, this film documents the US Black Power movement from 67 to 75. Broken neatly into a chapter for each year, it tells us chronologically of the struggle for civil rights in a society that claimed to be all for equality and freedom, but clearly was not.
We get footage of Malcom X, Martin Luther King, Stokely Carmichael, Eldridge Cleaver, Bobby Seale, and Angela Davis, speaking from platforms, giving interviews and just hanging around; together with ‘ordinary’ black people discussing the struggle to just get by in ‘the land of freedom of opportunity’.
The issue of violence v non violence is much discussed. Stokeley summing it up with an early statement, “Dr King’s policy was that if you suffer your opponent will see your suffering and will be moved to change his heart. That is very good. He only made one fallacious assumption. In order for non violence to work your opponent needs to have a conscience. The united States has none.”
It is not all confrontation though and we see the Black Panther’s free breakfast programme which J. Edgar Hoover declared to be “The most dangerous internal threat to America”.
The decline of Black Power seems to have been down to a CIA plot to turn every black man in Harlem into a junkie. At least according to this version of events. We have the bizarre spectacle of a tourist bus driving though Harlem telling the Swedish tourists that they should not set foot off the bus because even ‘good’ black people don’t wander into Harlem for fear of getting mugged.
The publicity for the film refers to “The clear objective of introducing a new generation to the Black Power Movement”. Now this would be a tall order in ninety minutes and to be honest, if you don’t have some prior knowledge of the history, the film probably does not make a great deal of sense. There is a serious lack of context.
The press also refers to “Utilizing an innovative format that riffs on the popular 70s mixtape format, the Black Power Mixtape is a cinematic and musical journey into the ghettos of America”. This sounds exciting but is a case of misrepresentation. It certainly does not ‘riff’ like anything and the music is quite frankly incidental.
This negativity should not be taken as a condemnation of the film, it is interesting, enlightening and worth watching, it is just that it is not what the tin says it is. Anyone that turns up expecting a funky soundtrack and voiceovers by Danny Glover (he is a producer, name checking him in the publicity is unnecessary) will be sorely disappointed. A mix-tape this is not. If they actually publicised it as what it really is they might find they pull the right audience and they may well go away satisfied. As did we.