Review: ‘The Black Power Mixtape: 1967-1975’

Offers some truly transcendent moments alongside a smattering of filler.

“The Black Power Mixtape: 1967-1975” is appropriately titled: Like any mixtape, it offers some truly transcendent moments alongside a smattering of filler, and never quite assembles its pieces into a cohesive whole. Featuring reels of long-lost documentary and news footage of black activists lensed by Swedish journalists, the film could be of great academic interest, though probably not much more.

Covering the period from the rise of the Black Power movement to the beginning of the inner-city drug plague that tore it apart, the filmmakers have excavated some remarkable moments from the archives. A jailhouse interview with cause celebre Angela Davis displays the wrongly accused professor’s intense erudition even in the face of appalling treatment; a black-and-white segment of famed activist Stokely Carmichael interviewing his own mother is touching; and a sit-down chat with Louis Farrakhan on the eve of his rise to power in the Nation of Islam shows the leader’s serpentine charm already eerily intact.

One of the more interesting factors here is that all the footage is presented in a completely Swedish context, meaning that scenes of poverty in Harlem are framed in much the same way that American TV news would present starvation in Ethiopia. But this also means that certain elements are lost in translation, or seemingly misunderstood. A long segment regarding a TV Guide critique of Swedish television reps the most confusing inclusion, though it does generate some laughs with its earnest description of TV Guide as “the most popular magazine in America” over B-roll of pedestrians reading the rag while walking through Times Square.

Voiceover commentary is provided by a grab bag of figures past and present, ranging from the eloquent (Davis again, Last Poets member Abiodun Oyewole, Harry Belafonte) to the perplexing (Talib Kweli). Original music from the Roots bandleader Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and Om’ Mas Keith is groovy.

The Black Power Mixtape: 1967-1975

Sweden

Production

A Story, Louverture Films and Svenges Television production. Produced by Annika Rogell. Executive producer, Tobias Janson. Co-producers, Joslyn Barnes, Danny Glover. Directed, written by Goran Hugo Olsson.

Crew

Camera (color/B&W, 16mm); editors, Hanna Lejonqvist, Goran Hugo Olssen; music, Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson, Om' Mas Keith; art director, Stefania Malmsten; sound, Anders Nystrom. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (competing), Jan. 21, 2011. Running time: 97 MIN.

With

Stokely Carmichael, Eldridge Cleaver, Bobby Seale, Angela Davis, Huey P. Newton, Louis Farrakhan, Erykah Badu, John Forte, Abiodun Oyewole, Melvin Van Peebles, Kathleen Cleaver, Harry Belafonte, Talib Kweli, Robin Kelley.
(English, Swedish dialogue)

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