Opening night of Göran Hugo Olsson’s provocative “The Black Power Mixtape: 1967-1975” will feature a special panel and Q & A with Professor Ericka Huggins (former Head of Los Angeles Black Panther Party) and USC Professor Robin Kelley. Panel & discussion will be moderated by Margaret Prescod of KPFK’s Sojourner Truth. Friday September 23, 7:30pm, Landmark Nuart Theater 11272 Santa Monica Boulevard Los Angeles, CA 90025-3154
A trove of archival footage from Swedish newscasters and journalists make up this history lesson about the Black Power Movement. Director Göran Hugo Olsson assembles a time line using extraordinary archival footage (uncovered in the Swedish Television archives) and fleshed out by contemporary audio interviews. Editor Hanna Lejonqvist adds momentum to this survey, organized by year. A host of narrators create a running commentary (like a bonus on a feature dvd.) Narrator’s include activists Angela Davis, Harry Belafonte, Sonia Sanchez and Last Poets member Abiodun Oyewole, as well as younger musicians Erikah Badhu, Talib Kweli, Questlove of The Roots.
The earliest section, featuring Panther’s precursor, eloquent Stokely Carmichael is remarkable. Footage of Carmichael’s interviews and press conferences in Sweden and Paris reminds us that before the Black Panthers. SNCC student leader Carmichael was bringing the message to the people. Carmichael was the first to publicly use the slogan Black Power (coined by novelist Richard Wright in the 50.)
Talking about the 1955 bus boycott, Carmichael explains,” In order for non-violence to work, you must have a conscience. America has not,” and again “Dr. King is very patient. He could accept the uncivilized behavior of white Americans… I’m not that patient.”
“Will you go back to the Unites States, with the possibility you may end up in jail?’ asks a French journalist. ” I was born in jail,” answers Stokely acknowledging his wit with a sharp sideways glance at the cameras.
In a sweet moment, Stokely interviews his Trinidadian mother, wheedling a political position out of her memories. In another black and white clip Stokley and buddies hang out, singing “Burn Baby Burn”.
As narrator Talib Kweli Greene observes,”Stokely’s words are still feared by the powers to be, 40 years later, even though he has much less influence in our community now.”
He tells a scary story. Greene had been listening to an old speech of Stokely for inspiration for his new album. Shortly after 911 he was pulled aside in an airport by the FBI, CIA and TSA and grilled about the Carmichael material. (Clearly his house was bugged.)
Footage of Malcolm X’s 1964 debate at the Oxford Debate Union (televised nationally by the BBC) is included. Malcolm X argued that “Extremism in the Defense of Liberty is No Vice; Moderation in the Pursuit of Justice is No Virtue.”
“America is a young dumb puppy with teeth that hurt” says Abbiodun Oyewole of “The Last Poets. “We don’t really know about Africa. We think about it in a romantic way.”
Swedish journalists frame the “exotic” American lifestyle, interviewing white working class Joes in Hallendale Florida, then several returned African American vets. Their views are diametrically opposed.
Sometimes the remote Swedish perspective creates surreal moments, as when they describe TV Guide as “the most popular magazine in America”.
They report a muck raking TV Guide editorial taking Swedish and Dutch TV to task for their virulent Anti-American stance. Political documentary filmmaker Emile de Antonio (“Point of Order”, and “Rush to Judgment”) describes the article as reflection Of Nixon’s paranoia. TV Guide was published by Walter Annenberg, NIxon’s pal and largest political contributor.
It’s riveting to see a young Martin Luther King Jr, Coretta King and Harry Belafonte’s visit with Swedish King Gustaf VI Adolf. Belafonte mugs for the camera before entering the inner sanctum.
Street commentators discuss the assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. “They killed all the people who stood up for black people in America. It seems like a conspiracy.”
COINTELPRO, the Counter Intelligence Program, which used agent provocateurs to split the movement, is briefly discussed. Men on the street interviews and present day narration discuss the government’s probable involvement in the King assassination. “Dr. King was the first public figure to speak out against the Vietnam War. He had to go. Suddenly he was treading on the system’s territory, was stopping the system’s money flow.” “When they killed Dr King, they declared war on us.”
The Panthers counseled a more militant position (as self-defense) while educating people about the policy of the capitalist system and structural racism.
We’re reminded that the Panthers’ were the first Ghetto run organization to create a Breakfast In The Schools Program (long before the idea became standard issue for urban school boards.) A title explains,” J. Edgar Hoover declares the Panthers’ Free Breakfast Program to be the most dangerous internal threat to America.”
We visit the Embassy of the Black Panther party, where exiled Panther leader Eldridge Cleaver continued his work. The villa, located in the El Biar district of Algiers, was given to Cleaver by the Algerian government. Kathleen works in the front office. Eldridge discusses their work.
An interview with jailed Angela Davis delivers the political goods, as the brilliant scholar puts a lie to the Government’s criminalization of the movement. She eventually beat the trumped up kidnap and murder charges and went on to found “Critical Resistance”, an organization working to abolish the prison-industrial complex. Tearfully recalling her Birmingham childhood, where family members all knew the young victims of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing, and her father patrolled the neighborhood in an unofficial armed militia, Davis ably parses the political expediency of self-defense.
Davis defense lawyer Dennis Roberts, one of the lawyers in the Chicago Eight defense (as well as counsel for Huey Newton and Cesar Chavez’s Farm Workers) Union describes the government’s politically orchestrated charges.
An interview with snake oil salesman Louis Farrakhan, thought to be behind the assassination of rival Malcolm X, shows him positioning to run the Nation Of Islam, which filled the power gap once the Panthers were dismantled by overt and covert government harassment.
Civil Rights lawyer William Kunstler describes the horror of the Attica uprising, as rioting prisoners attempted to improve prison conditions. George Lester Jackson’s death in San Quentin Prison, at the hands of prison guards, sparked the Attica Prison Uprising. Part of a team of observers Including journalists Tom Wicker (The New York Times) James Ingram (The Michigan Chronicle), state senator John Dunne, state representative Arthur Eve and Minister Louis Farrakhan, a young Kunstler describes the four days of failed negotiations between prisoners and Correctional Services Commissioner Russell G. Oswald, before State Police retook the facility by force, leaving twenty nine prisoners and ten correctional officers and civilian employees dead.
Footage from a 1973 tour bus is shocking, Tour guides warn the Swedish tourists to stay on the bus. ““Everyone is selling dope, from the government on down.”
The ghetto influx of drugs, manipulated by CIA interests (first heroin in the 60’s and 70’s, and later crack cocaine) destroyed the last vestiges of the disciplined politically educated inner city movement.
Music by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and the Roots will draw in a younger audience. Produced by Joslyn Barnes, Danny Glover, Tobias Janson, Annika Rogell, this activist documentary is fascinating, fun and still relevant, A MUST SEE. Opens Friday September 23, Nuart Theatre