Monday, October 10, 2011

The Black Power Mixtape: review

The new film "The Black Power Mixtape" is a bit of a disappointment to me as someone who was raised with an awareness of the civil rights era. I had hoped that the film would truly give some insight into the Black Power movement, but overall it is a very loose collection of very brief snippets of interviews with black power representatives.
There's a director attributed to it, Goran Olsson, but he's much more of an editor here than a director: the film is a collection of interviews done by Swedish television between 1967-1975, interviews looking at the changing civil rights movement, and influential black figures between those years.
I was hoping to get a better knowledge of Stokely Carmichael, Bobby Seale, Huey Newton and others in the movement, but instead the film gives short historical narratives rather than character study.
Does it have any value apart from my enjoying it or not? It has some value as a historical record, but again only in snippets. There's a section on 1974 Harlem that looks at the drug problem there and the growth of the Nation of Islam under Louis Farrakhan that holds some interest. There's a powerful interview with a former prostitute, a black bookstore owner, a Vietnam war veteran struggling with drug abuse, and some horrific shots of emaciated babies of drug victims. Actually, in terms of documentary work, this holds some of the most powerful raw footage in the film. However, it feels again like a chapter in a narrative that doesn't really have a trajectory.
I'm reminded of the latest film by Michael Moore, "Capitalism: A Love Story," in which Moore railed against global capitalism by means of a few separate stories. However, the stories never really coalesced into a coherent narrative. The same thing here.
It's also a rather strange documentary in another way: the filmmakers have voiceover commentary by poets and others who reflect on the footage in the film, just as we're seeing it. It feels almost like one of those DVD commentary things, and removes you a little bit from the footage.
Some of the commenters actually were of greater interest to me than the footage: I knew nothing about Talib Kweli before this film, nor of John Forte, Sonia Sanchez, or Abiudon Oyewole. Their commentary in many cases interested me more than the footage I was watching, which was often quite generic.
If the filmmakers had gone between these historical scenes and shown the modern-day life of people like Belafonte, Davis and younger people like Kweli and John Forte, I think it could have been a fascinating comparison-contrast film. As it is, unless you're totally new to learning about the civil rights era in the States, it won't expose too much new material to you.

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