‘Black Power Mixtape’ — U.S. politics through ‘foreign’ eyes

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Who knew that some of the best coverage of the U.S. racial conflicts of the 1960s and 1970s was done by Swedish television journalists?

That’s the astonishing surprise of the documentary “The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975” which debuted at Sundance in 2010, had a brief theatrical run six months later, and is now on home video via the Sundance Selects label. The film is a newly re-edited collection of archival footage shot by Swedish crews more than 30 years ago.

Perhaps because they felt the Scandinavian interviewers were more sympathetic than their American counterparts, and would give them more time to explain themselves, such pivotal civil rights figures as Angela Davis (above), Stokely Carmichael (below) and Huey Newton opened up on camera in ways that were unheard of on the nightly newscasts that ruled the U.S. airwaves back then.

The documentary is given a “present tense” feeling by new audio commentary from such black artists and thinkers as Erykah Badu, Abiodun Oyewole and Sonia Sanchez.

Looking back at the old footage raises the question of where the revolutionary fervor of those times has gone. Will the financial disaster of our economy spur a similar grassroots upheaval? Is the Occupy Wall Street movement ever going to develop into a real national force?

“The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975” delves into the debate within the civil rights movement that was rarely covered by the white U.S. press.

During the 1967 segment, we get a fascinating interview with Stokely Carmichael in which he criticizes the passive resistance of Martin Luther King a few months before King was assassinated.

U.S. television tended to present black leaders in a monolithic manner 40 years ago. The Swedish documentary footage takes us into different factions for a real sense of the debate within the community over leaders such as King and Malcolm X and Louis Farrakhan.

Angela Davis gets a terrific segment, a long interview in which she explains why she believes that when you talk about “violence” in the Civil Rights movement you should start with the long and violent oppression of blacks in the South — she lived in Birmingham, Alabama, at the time of a church bombing that resulted in the death of a childhood friend.

“The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975” makes for a riveting 96 minutes and the DVD comes with great extras, including unedited versions of some of the best interviews in the documentary.

Joe Meyers

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