20 December 2011

The Black Power Mixtape, 1967-1975

I stumbled across this somewhat randomly in the New Arrivals section of Netflix instant. It's a fascinating movie. It's a documentary about the Black Power movement shot by Swedish filmmakers from 1967-1975, with voice overs from various people in the present (Talib Kweli, Melvin van Peebles, Erykah Badu, ?uestlove).

The best thing about it, really, is the footage itself. If you like Jamel Shabazz's photography, you'll love this too. Just gorgeous, gorgeous video of black life in the 60s and early 70s. The other thing that really intrigued me about it was the fact that a lot of the movie is basically told from a Swedish perspective, and you get glimpses (only glimpses, alas - I would have loved a more sustained reflection) on international perspectives on the civil rights movement, and the American response. Because they were outsiders, the Swedes, it seems, got a lot more access, and much more intimate interviews (there's a particularly wonderful segment of Stokely Carmichael with his mother). I would have loved to learn more about the Swedes who were involved, how this type of coverage was received in Sweden, etc. I imagine there must be a good book out there about international perspectives on, for example, the Black Power movement (I'm especially curious about the Eastern European one) - Ima have to track it down (feel free to leave recs in the comments). It's not all sunshine and cheer - there's one somewhat disturbing scene of a Swedish bus tour through Harlem, with the tour guide making some really disgusting comments.

Of course, the interviews, and the perspectives on that historical time, are also pretty interesting. There is a really powerful scene of Angela Davis in prison, being asked how she feels about violence - it's intense. But just as amazing are many of the 'man-on-the-street' scenes. It really hit me, just how many assassinations there were back then, really, how terrifying life in that movement was. I am regularly amazed by how little I know about the Civil Rights movement, and while this movie wasn't walking you through the history by any means, it does give you enough information to be able to keep up, and introduces you to a lot of the major players in very personal ways.

The voice overs from the present, I have to say, didn't do much for me. There's not much in the way of serious reflection on the legacies of the time and what they mean for the present - more just personal reflections like "Wow, this meant a lot to me." Ok Talib, that's nice, but... so what? You know? Actually, the movie was a nice companion piece to the Michael Eric Dyson book on Malcom X that I read recently, and made me appreciate it more. If anything, it actually made me think a bit about how the energy of radicalism of the Black Power movement sort of dissipated into a more introspective artistic one, where real political action got diluted into artistic representations. I love those artistic representations (I'm a big fan of Kweli, Erykah, and Questo, for example) but I don't know that they're organizing free meals and after school programs for poor kids. The movie glances over a critique of capitalism, mentioning its necessity, and also describing the Black Power is Green movement - the idea of supporting black business - but there isn't much examination of how the success of the latter kind of worked against the aims of the former, and left an entire segment of the population even worse off, in some ways. That's a very hard discussion to have though.

Overall, a really interesting movie, definitely worth watching.


luckmey said...
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culture_vulture said...

I appreciate comments, but I am not so into links for products people are trying to sell. Sorry.