August 7, 2011


I am a white, middle-class male from New Zealand. I was born in the 1980's and grew up in and around kiwi suburbia. As this is plainly obvious, I can hardly begin to imagine the actual experience of a black person in mid-20th century America. Even my knowledge of this particularly tumultuous time in American history is patchy, at best. I know the broad outlines, but not the specifics nor the experiences. I think it's fair to say that most of my actual knowledge of the period is from various pop-culture sources. This documentary, The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975, does not purport or aim to tell the entire story either. Instead, it is a collection of footage shot by a Swedish news crew, charting the rise of the Black Power movement in the US from 1967-1975. It is a fascinatingly clear-sighted and personal time capsule of a period of massive social change.

Things begin with Stokely Carmichael, a charismatic, intelligent and angry early black leader. The footage then moves through the years and the growing black power movement that finds a fair amount of sympathisers in the reporters' native Sweden. The footage is supplemented by narrative voice-over of prominent members of the black community; artists, activists and musicians. While its great to hear from modern day descendants of these activists and society-changers, the footage all but speaks for itself. They cover a wide range of time and subjects: from Carmichael to founders of the Black Panthers to wrongfully imprisoned black intellectual Angela Davis (who also provides voice-over narration) to people in Harlem. They travel far and wide, including the Black Panther embassy in Algiers and charting the rise from anger to militancy to more community involvement.

For being footage from such a select source, telling only a portion of the American black civil rights/Black Power movement, this is an illuminating film giving a human face and context to the broad outlines of history I know. It is all to easy to think of History being shaped by Events when, in fact, it is all down to People. It is people up against other people, people banding together, or people creating events; creating change and trying to improve their world that shapes history. A fascinating documentary from an intriguing source.

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