Film depicts humane side of movement
The facts themselves often get lost over time, and it is left up to others to try and reconstruct the truth from what little information they have.
During the civil rights movement, people got to see history as it occurred. Whether it was a Martin Luther King Jr. speech or riveting footage of a black power rally, ordinary people were given the truth â straight up.
Featuring images of iconic figures like Martin Luther King Jr., Stokely Carmichael and Angela Davis, The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 â directed by Swedish filmmaker GĂ¶ran Olsson â attempts to recreate truth for audiences of the present.
More than anything, Olsson acts as an editor, piecing together nine years of footage from multiple Swedish journalists. Editing documentary footage is a touchy subject, and editors often risk being accused of misrepresenting history in the process. As a director, itâs easy to create biases and agendas in the process of making such a film.
Olsson, however, has handled his responsibilities beautifully. Rather than choose sides, he recognizes where his place lies: as an outsider observing, not re-crafting, history.
This goal is outlined in the first moments of the film. The opening credits claim the footage is simply what the Swedish journalists observed themselves, not an entire story of the movement.
What we do see, however, is mesmerizing. Perhaps itâs the laid-bare, raw feeling of the 16 mm format, but for whatever reason, itâs easy for the audience to feel as if it is the reporter, interviewing the pioneers of the black power movement.
Black Panther leader and activist Stokely Carmichael is the first such pioneer. He lights up the screen with hope and desperation, and one can feel the exhaustion he experienced trying to fight for a world that did not want him.
Carmichael is an incendiary speaker, filled with passion contrary to Martin Luther King Jr.âs more passive style of discourse. The Black Power Mixtape shows Carmichael as weary of not getting heard and as using âany means necessaryâ â even after being arrested countless times â to achieve his goals.
It is also incredible to see a young version of the scholar and political activist Angela Davis: skin scrubbed clean of make up, teeth protruding and hair in a massive afro. The impressive way in which she carries herself in the film belies her youth; she is only 26 years old in the footage.
Interviewees in The Black Power Mixtape are not restricted to famous revolutionary figures. There are a few effective sequences where everyday people offer heartbreaking anecdotes depicting why fighters like Carmichael and Davis were so vital in the fight for equal rights.
âIâm always trying to get out of the gutter but thereâs something always holding me down,â one black soldier returning from Vietnam declares.
Those at home feel the pain too. A young girl from Harlem, with tears in her eyes, reveals how she goes to a corner every night to prostitute herself and how her addiction to dope is both ruining and saving her.
When we think of âblack power,â we think of guns and radicals sporting afros. Rarely do we see the true people â and motivation â behind it. Why were blacks forced to be radical in the first place?
Perhaps it was to fight for young, disenchanted black Vietnam vets and for girls too embarrassed to tell her family that selling their bodies is the only choice they have. The fight was not to gain celebrity for those who spoke up; it was for those too weak to rally against a system that continuously puts them down.
Violence was just the way some black power freedom fighters decided to go about it, and since society is drawn to sensationalist stories, we remember the negatives instead of the positives, the radicals instead of the people.
The film gains more depth through modern voiceovers by figures such as Erykah Badu, Questlove, John FortĂ© and even an aged Davis herself. Though these voiceovers sometimes feel unrelated to the images onscreen, The Black Power Mixtape still benefits from the opinions of these modern blacks, whose lives were directly affected by the decisions of their forefathers.
What The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 does well is avoiding unnecessary commentary on our nationâs history. This proves to be a critical decision.
After all, the beauty of the film lies in its goal to objectively inform and show the humane side of a movement most famous for its violence â a revolution led by a minority who felt the drive to prove that they, too, deserved rights as Americans.