Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975


In the sane week that a woman was arrested after a racist rant on a London tram this film makes its much anticipated release in the cinema. Although set in the United States and focussing on the years between 1969 and 1975 when Black Power was in the ascendant many of the issues covered in this documentary although contextual obviously still have relevance in the present day. Featuring previously unseen footage captured by Swedish journalists and edited together by contemporary director Goran Olsson the film shows an outsiders perspective on a country’s internal struggle to reconcile its differing races in a particularly turbulent era when social consciences and attitudes were changing at breakneck speed causing those who had previously held the upper hand to take radical measures in order to retain their position of power whilst the underlings for several generations strove to attain a voice that was not only heard but listened to.

Although many of the names – Martin Luther King and Malcolm X are probably the main exceptions- may seem unfamiliar to a contemporary audience their struggles will not. Stokeley Carmichael took on the baton handed him by King and adapted his doctrines of equality but imbued them with a sense of power and aggression which was a marked change from King’s more passive stance. It is the heroic Angela Davis and her unfair treatment whose tale really stands out in this film however. Wrongly incarcerated for 18 months for the simple crime of being in the wrong place at the wrong time and being black her tale is particularly poignant. In answer to a question that questions if and why there was violence and aggression at the heart of the Black Power movement she gives an articulate and detailed response which more than explains and instead reasons why such measures were necessary. Other notable moments include an extremely disturbing scene in which we see a newborn baby born to a junkie mother going through cold turkey. This is followed by a traumatic scene where a young black girl details how the only option open to her is prostitution and then explains how heroin is the only thing getting her through this circumstance by numbing her emotions. It is a heartfelt moment and one that shows cause and effect and its long-term effects on the next generation some of whom-like the withdrawing baby- are born into a life of no future.

Black Power Mixtape is a worthwhile effort showing an important time in America’s history both politically and socially. Whilst the time shown has to be considered contextually for full effect – I am sure no-one involved could have anticipated a black President only forty years into the future so desolate was their plight at this time- it still raises issues that need to be considered. If that young woman who sat on the tram whilst abusing those around her for not being British enough had suffered in the way Black people in America prior to the civil rights movement- sitting down on buses was only permitted in certain areas and if every white person was seated first despite paying the same fares-then she may have had something to complain about. Somehow I doubt she has suffered in the same way and her outburst really was nothing more than an ignorant racist rant.

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