Stokely Carmichael. Assata Shakur. Angela Davis. Bobby Seale. Huey P. Newton. For my generation, if you grew up around a certain dynamic those are all names you knew and heard about often, without living through the Experience. “The Black Power Mixtape” is a well-edited documentary that casts an eye on what those times were like in the Movement and the connections that have resonated with the next generation.
Narrated in sections by artists Talib Kweli, Erykah Badu, and Questlove, “The Black Power Mixtape” is visually made up of archival news footage from Sweden(?!?), as a group of young journalists came to this country during that time to try to grasp what the Civil Rights Movement was all about. At the time where this film begins, John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, and Medgar Evers had already been killed, and the assassinations of Dr. King and Robert Kennedy finished the job of wiping out the optimism of the country. With Vietnam’s unpopularity on the rise, the climate was rise for a more radical approach.
(On a side note, I believe it was Questlove who conspiracy theoried that the reason King was killed when he was killed was because he was the first outspoken leader against Vietnam AND, as he was doing in Memphis, he was now marching less against race and moreso against class with the Poor People’s Campaign. I’m paraphrasing but the quote was ‘You want to ride in the front of the bus, OK. You want to cause a fuss for the military and financial institutions? Nah… Interesting to think about in light of the “Occupy…” movement that’s going now. Maybe today’s movement is better off without a ‘leader’? Back to topic…)
The Black Panthers are probably the best known group to emerge out of the 70s discontent. When J. Edgar Hoover declared their Free Breakfast Program the greatest internal threat to national security (God I hope this is portrayed in the movie about to come out), the lines were clearly drawn. The incarceration of Angela Davis covers the second act of the film. The first ‘must see’ clip of the film is when a reporter goes to visit Professor Davis in prison to ask her about the situation. The poor guy was probably sincere in his naivete (being from another country), but Angela Davis’ incredulous response to someone not knowing the history of violence against Blacks in this country is highly entertaining/motivating. I know without researching it that’s there no way in hell that interview played on American television at the time (if ever before now).
The second must see clip the film provides is of a babyfaced Louis Farrakhan. Seriously I barely recognized him before he started talking. Only a few years after Malcolm’s assassination, the young minister shows the ‘polish’ that would soon after reunite the factions in the Nation and begin his own ascent on a larger scale. It’s another of those interviews that I guess I should have known existed somewhere; it’s interesting to see in the context of this film.
In a sad ‘full circle’, the film begins with the communal depression from the murders of every national leader, and the film ends with the seeds being planted for the drug epidemic that would cripple the black community in the 80s. I’m a little surprised the film didn’t mention how Huey Newton himself was a casualty, but they probably didn’t have any footage of it.
“The Black Power Mixtape” is available On Demand on many cable outlets.