“The Black Power Mixtape: 1967-1975” Comes to Wisconsin Public Broadcasting Friday, February 10 and Saturday, February 11
For one thing, I am very glad that “The Black Power Mixtape” is coming to WPT and to The Wisconsin Channel. Sundance 608 had it for a hot minute over at Hilldale Shopping Center; it only lasted a week and then beat it almost like a thief in the night. It came and went so fast that by the time I was aware of it—and had the money for it—it was gone. If the film had been there longer, residents of the South and North Sides of Madison might have been roused to take in the cheaper matinee seats.
But now folks in Southern Wisconsin can see it for free tonight and tomorrow night, and even perhaps to record it thanks to the PBS program Independent Lens. “The Black Power Mixtape” will be shown at 9:00 p.m., tonight on WPT, Channel 21.1, and at 11:00 p.m. on The Wisconsin Channel, or Channel 21.2 on Saturday night.
It resonates, really, across decades.
You know the story: a bunch of Swedish journalists and filmmakers descended on black power advocates in the late Sixties and documented their story for several years after winning—if you can call it that—their trust in allowing themselves to be queried and filmed. But after the Swedes return home, the films are stored in canisters in a television station basement for the next 30-odd years. For some strange reason, the footage is never used or released—until now. From the New York Daily News:
Still, the film has a fragmentary feel, as if we’re looking at a scrapbook of snapshots rather than a narrative tying them together.
That may be one reason the filmmakers let much of the footage sit for 30-plus years before it was assembled into “Black Power Mixtape.”
Within the eight years this documentary encompasses, the black power movement itself underwent significant changes. Leaders were killed, missions morphed. Groups known for militant street protests shifted part of their attention to breakfast programs.
“Black Power Mixtape” touches on all of that, but leaves to someone else the task of wrapping it all together and exploring the extensive impact the movement had on subsequent American life.
What it does do is give those future chroniclers another rich batch of material to work with.
Who knows? Maybe COINTELPRO had a much longer reach than we thought, and the filmmakers were threatened not to release the film.
However, “rich” is right, as far as this historical treasure trove of interviews and on-site scenes is concerned. However, I would hate for it to be yet an another opportunity for us folks to wallow in nostalgia or to overly romanticize this era, rather than make it a starting point towards not making the same mistakes over again?
Realize that the major players in this 96-minute film, like Stokely Carmichael/Kwame Ture, Angela Davis and Eldridge Cleaver, have either died (spectacularly, quietly, or ignominiously), moved on beyond just the issue of black power, or in Cleaver’s case, have been widely discredited as dupes, frauds, or much worse. They not only look like our brothers and sisters, but our parents and grandparents today. If anything, just from the footage I have seen, Angela Davis hasn’t changed one bit from when she became world famous for what she said and for what she has continued to say decades since. The big, iconic Afro was merely form, not substance.
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.
One fact does remain cogent then as now: that certain whites will never voluntarily cede personal, social, or political power or control to others, be they people of color, women, immigrants, or blacks. Even our president, in his moments, must understand that fact, especially with the Republicans and the Baggers attacking him and his family every chance that they can get, and he’s supposedly at the top of the proverbial heap.
(For all the nuts reading this blog article: Obama was a child in elementary school and in junior high overseas and in Hawaii when much of this action was happening stateside. Even his mother Ann Dunham, married to her second husband of color, was pretty much divorced from what was happening in the United States at that time. So cool your jets. You will not see anyone looking vaguely like our 44th president in this film.)
See The Black Power Mixtape tonight, and check out what has changed for the better or for the worse for the generation of blacks that lived it, or who were produced from that time.
- Resonant Doc ‘Black Power Mixtape’ Premieres on Independent Lens, 9 February (Mixed Media) (popmatters.com)
- (2011) The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 (moorbey.wordpress.com)
- Recommendation: The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 (womenintheology.org)
- The roots of OWS: Black power documentary captures the birth of a movement (dangerousminds.net)