How much do you really know about the American Black Power movement? After watching The Black Power Mixtape, you’ll certainly know a lot more, as it’s a revealing and poignant look at one of the most turbulent periods in American history which charts the struggles of The Black Panthers and The Nation Of Islam who actively provoked the establishment during the Nixon years.
It’s assembled from archive footage shot by Swedish journalists and collated by director Göran Hugo Olsson. The results are extremely interesting and feature candid interviews with leading figures in the movement which mainstream American media would have eschewed.
The footage here is wonderful and includes illuminating interviews with such luminaries as Stokey Carmichael – seen here not just at his rallies but also speaking plainly to a journalist in his living room and, in one brilliant section, taking the microphone to interview his own mother about their impoverished upbringing.
Another highlight is Angela Davis, a patient but nevertheless furiously intelligent woman with the most fantastic afro you’ll ever see: her calm erudition in the face of false-accusation is nothing short of inspiring. In fact Davis is so compelling that she could be the subject of her own documentary.
Olsson is very careful to the images speak for themselves. There are no cutaway talking head interviews (much in the same way that Senna kept the narrative flowing by never turning away from the footage). Instead, captivating footage is overdubbed with modern day commentary. This varies in quality – segments featuring Angela Davis (yet again) and Harry Belafonte are engaging whilst other featuring Talib Kweli seem out of place offering some contextual flavour by not much insight.
It begins with the disclaimer “This does not presume to tell the whole story”. It’s something that’s worth bearing in mind as while it succeeds as a “mixtape”, there’s a nagging sense that this is merely an excuse for a lack of structure. The footage is illuminating and thought provoking but a stronger sense of narrative cohesion would be appreciated particularly for those not familiar with the subject matter.
If it’s a period of history in which you have any interest, it’s certainly worth catching but it will probably best serve those looking a different perspective on a subject with which they’re already familiar.