Monday, March 12, 2012

The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975

Every month when I get my netflix bill I think about getting rid of this subscription I rarely use, but when I rent something like The Black Power Mixtape it all seems worth it. The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 is a documentary consisting of interviews conducted by Swedish television journalists; the footage remained buried in the archives of Swedish television for over 3 decades and has recently been edited and released.

The film brought back the intensity of those days when the world seemed to be coming apart—-the assassinations of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, the killings at Kent State, a time when the forces of the state (J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI, many local police forces) were out to destroy radical challenges to the existing order. The film includes interviews with Stokely Carmichael, Angela Davis, Louis Farrakhan, Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, among others.

By far the most powerful segment was the interview with Davis while she was awaiting trial on charges of providing the guns used in a California courthouse shooting that left four people dead. Responding to a journalist who raised the issue of Black Power advocates’ justification of violence, she bitterly attacked a society that ignored and in some cases condoned a history of violence against African-Americans. With cold fury she replies to the Swedish journalist: "When someone asks me about violence, I find it incredible. A person asking that can have no idea about what black people have gone through in this country."

For me the biggest surprise was the interview with Stokely Carmichael, especially the segment when he interviews his mother about the effects of poverty and discrimination on her family. Carmichael is clearly a man who loves and respects his mother. He comes across in the film as at times gentle, witty, ironic—very different from the angry militant I remember who famously said in response to a question about the position of women in the Civil Rights movement, “The position of women in the movement is prone.” This anecdote has been retold in countless feminist histories of the 1960’s and Carmichael has been roundly condemned for his sexism.

He later said it was a joke. I saw that as an attempt to defend the indefensible. But after seeing this film, I think it is entirely possible that the Carmichael portrayed here might have been joking. The very fact that he would make such a joke says volumes about the culture of the times—-the social movements of the 1960’s were riddled with gross sexism. However, Carmichael just might have been making a crude joke rather than issuing a proclamation on women’s inferior position.

The DVD includes additional interviews,including one with Shirley Chisholm which for reasons I cannot understand was not in the film. Perhaps this was because Chisholm was not using the incendiary rhetoric of the Black Panthers and other Black Power militants, but clearly she was an advocate of Black Power. If you rent the DVD, don’t miss the interview with Chisholm in the supplementary material.

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