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Old footage sheds light on Black Power film

Bridgit Brown

“The Black Power Mixtape: 1967-1975” is a must see documentary about the rise and stall of the Black Power Movement in the United States.

Filmed by Swedish journalists in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the film includes interviews with some of the Movement’s most pivotal leaders woven together with audio commentaries made by contemporary African American artists, activists and scholars.

What makes it different from other documentaries of the kind is the never-before-seen interviews that seem to bring these black cultural giants down to size and human form.

The popular footage that we all know of the fiery activist Stokely Carmichael objecting to white racism with a raised fist is in stark contrast to what we see of him in the “The Black Power Mixtape.”

Here we see a gentler Carmichael, a son sitting with his mom, Mabel Carmichael, in the 1960s. He is soft-spoken as he asks his mother to talk about how she and his father came to America from Trinidad.

 “What was it like for you?” Carmichael asks. His mother tells him that it was hard for his father to keep a job as a cab driver.

In another scene, we see Carmichael boarding a flight and we hear the rapper Talib Kweli’s reaction to the footage. Kweli talks about an incident that occurred shortly after 9/11 — more than 30 years later. He said that he was listening to a Carmichael speech while taking a flight and when he got off the plane, security officials had confronted him.

“They wanted to know why I was listening to Stokely Carmichael,” said Kweli. “What authorities who remain fearful of black power miss is that Carmichael was just a regular dude.”

The American mainstream media was not impressed with the Swedes’ coverage of events taking place at the time, even though the documentary serves as a history lesson for everybody today.

As a case in point, in one scene the filmmakers interview an executive of “TV Guide” who proceeds to condemn them, saying that they were focusing too much on the negative aspects of American society.

But what the Swedes present in “The Black Power Mixtape” is an innocent observation of what looked like a government’s attempt to suppress social progress. Director Goran Hugo Olsson pieces this aspect of the story together with a montage of Black Panther Party members educating and serving breakfast to black school children and quotes made by then FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover.

Hoover called the Black Panther Party “the most dangerous internal threat to America,” and he assigned groups of FBI agents to dismember the Party through its counter-intelligence programs and police raids of the Party’s headquarters.

There is B-roll footage from the Attica prison uprisings with a commentary by the rapper John Forte. He recalled the time that he spent in prison and the solace that he found in the writings of Angela Davis.

There is also a never before seen interview with a young Angela Davis while in jail for charges of aggravated kidnapping and first-degree murder. Davis, who was later acquitted of the charges, is asked about whether or not she supports armed struggle.

The camera zooms in on a tight shot of her as she tells the Swedish reporter that violence is inevitable in a country that used violence to enslave millions of Africans.

Davis then personalizes the experience, as she tells the interviewer about her childhood in Birmingham, Ala., of the abominable crime involving a church bombing by whites that killed four of her classmates.  

Abiodum Oyewole of the The Last Poets speaks over scenes of Martin Luther King  Jr. and a very young and playful Harry Belafonte on a visit to Sweden.

In his commentary, Oyewole admits that while he respects the slain leader for his nonviolent resistance movement, he could never join that cause.

Scored by The Roots’ bandleader Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, “The Black Power Mixtape: 1967-1975” also features interviews with Huey P. Newton, Eldridge Cleaver, Elaine Brown and Minister Louis Farrakhan.

Erykah Badu, Harry Belafonte, Angela Davis and Sonia Sanchez also lend their voices to this this incredibly moving film.

“The Black Power Mixtape: 1967-1975” is now  screening at the Kendall Square Cinema in Cambridge.