Actor-Activist Danny Glover Presents “The Black Power Mixtape” at the Sundance Festival
This is getting some serious buzz over at the Sundance Film Festival happening this week. And I am sure that this would have resonance for many of those who were barely alive or not even born during the Sixties and Seventies. You’d be surprised how much of this history has not been made available, especially to young people. When I showed a film about how the media portrayed the Civil Rights Movement in one of my English comp classes, some of the students were shocked that journalists did not come to help people who were being beaten bloody and harassed. “That wasn’t their job,” I told them. “Showing what was happening–that was their job. No matter how they felt when they were filming it.” I didn’t tell them that the local cops wouldn’t have helped them, either. You had to be there and to know, but these students weren’t there.
Danny Glover was actually a member of the BSU, or the Black Students Union, at San Francisco State when all that ish was happening about ethnic studies in 1966. His job is to educate, but I think that it is much more than just that. Just like with some soldiers from a long past war, his activist past was some of the best years of his life, and he wants to show why.
AMY GOODMAN: So, Danny, tell us about this film.
DANNY GLOVER: Well, certainly it’s extraordinary. It’s almost, when you think about something like—let’s face it—that we’re dealing with now in terms of WikiLeaks, you know, and how information is uncovered. This film is about information or documentary—documentary filmmakers and interviews with members of—people who were involved in the Black Power movement.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, this was found in the basement?
DANNY GLOVER: It’s found in the basement—the basement—of Swedish Television. It had been aired only once, as a series. And these incredibly rich interviews—I mean, just from 1967 to 1975.
AMY GOODMAN: Seventy-five.
DANNY GLOVER: Rich interviews of men and women who were involved in the Black Power movement, but also Swedish Television coming to the United States and assessing themselves and interviewing people about the movement. So, you would have an interview, a young sister at the Black Panther Party office in New York who talks about the revolution, you know, or you would have a free breakfast for children program, or you have all this rare footage of Bobby Seale’s in somewhere in Europe. So, this is what this is about. So it’s a compilation of all these interviews, all these documentary films that were done, all this rich archival information about the Black Power movement.
A transcript of the interview is found at the link above. Danny Glover is a co-producer of this film.
A cautionary review comes from HitFix.com’s Sundance review:
Most of it [the film] concentrates on what were considered the more radical elements of the Black Power movement: Stokely Carmichael’s SNCC, The Black Panthers and Angela Davis. Their speeches give an illuminating picture for those too young remember of how deeply divisive the country was over racial issues in the last ’60s and early ’70s.
[Director Goran] Olsson presents the footage by year and attempts to give it some context and perspective by bringing in voice overs by some of the people included in the original footage, such as Davis, as well as many current-day conscious hip-hop artists like Talib Kweli or Erykah Badu.
Most of the modern-day voices (we never see most of them) simply affirm the actions of the civil rights leaders we see on screen or, and this is certainly of value in its own way, discuss what they have learned from those who came before them. For example, singer/songwriter John Forte talks about how he embraced some of Davis’s writing about her imprisonment while he himself was in prison. Kweli tells a powerful story about how only a few years ago, he was detained by airport security for listening to speeches by Carmichael, who, himself was followed by the FBI. Kweli figures the FBI was spying on him as well, but he points out that 40 years after Carmichael’s height of power, even listening to his often-inflammatory rhetoric could be seen as a dangerous activity by the U.S. government.
The best voices in the film come from The Last Poets’ Abiodun Oyewole, who was active in the Black Power Movement. He explains why Martin Luther King Jr.’s message of non-violence was ineffective to him in a passionate way…[and then there is] Robin Kelley, a USC professor of American studies, who in a very small way, sometimes provides the only voice of dissent in a chorus of praise. The film badly needs some balance from the other side—perhaps a historian who explains why the Black Power movement has largely died out or, even, just someone who believed that what Carmichael was doing may have done more harm than good (other than the obvious government objections).
Well. What’s done is done. And Stokely, Huey, and Cleaver and good people like Fred Hampton who preached unity as well as self-reliance are dead, too. I would think that someone who was sympathetic to the aims of the group but who saw what went wrong would have been a better critic as well.
Because I know that I hear that all the Panthers did was bad, and all that King did was good. But not all of what the Panthers did was bad. The food programs, the school programs, the classes that taught pride and self-respect–that was all good. I think they, as well as Malcolm X before them, made it a bit easier for King to argue to the nation that the alternative was far worse. But not that much easier.
Why did the Black Power Movement die out? In my view, too much emphasis on the gun, too much cult of personality focused on the males, particularly Huey Newton; too much unresolved and damaging gender politics coming from the street and the prisons; too much bad politics (Mao was NOT the answer) and way too much COINTELPRO that kept sowing discord, all of which caused the Party to implode from within. I don’t think there’s much footage to explain any of that. It really is too bad that something more substantive, like black institutions no matter how small, could have survived with their name on it from this time.
And that is it: a 96-minute documentary film, especially a film that is in bits and pieces like The Black Power Mixtape, despite Danny’s best efforts and enthusiasm, and dare I say it, romanticism, cannot begin to tell the whole story, but only part of it. The image does have more resonance than the printed word, but at least, it would be a beginning to some hardcore reading, discussion and critiquing. I think that what strikes viewers at Sundance most of all is the fire, promise and the youthfulness of this movement (Eldridge Cleaver was considered the eldest of the Panthers at 30 or so). More to it, a lot of what people felt then is how people feel even now. (Which means that little has changed, sadly.) Even the clothes and hairdoes have returned to this time, like an echo.
However, as I once read, you can wear the hair and still have a processed mind. I hope this film comes to a film festival near you and opens up your mind.