From Portside Culture <[email protected]>
Subject Fight for Rights, Will to Power: The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975
Date June 17, 2020 12:00 AM
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[Greg Tate explores the shifting struggles for black equality –
and identity – presented in the Swedish television archives (filmed
from 1967 - 1975) originally released as a film in 2011 and currently
streaming on Amazon Prime and YouTube.] [[link removed]]


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Greg Tate
June 3, 2020
British Film Institute
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_ Greg Tate explores the shifting struggles for black equality –
and identity – presented in the Swedish television archives (filmed
from 1967 - 1975) originally released as a film in 2011 and currently
streaming on Amazon Prime and YouTube. _

Angela Davis, Black Power MixTapes



The difference between the Civil Rights and the Black Power movements
is one of geography as much as ideology, of regional radicalised
realpolitik versus a more conceptualist and performative approach to
the problem.

Black Power emerged in the north and west of America as ineluctably as
desegregation had found traction in the American South. Civil rights
forever transformed the way racial discrimination could be fought in
all US courts, but Black Power changed the way black Americans
perceived themselves. It turned every negative about being black into
a positive and potentially revolutionary act. Civil Rights was
concerned with racial equality; Black Power was focused on racial
identity and visibility.

These philosophical tensions – between black-activist race thinkers
who desired full citizenship and those who wanted to confront white
supremacy wherever it reared its ugly head – had produced a Martin
Luther King on the one hand and a Malcolm X on the other. The black
America we have today is a hybrid of King’s pursuit of legal
remedies to racism and Malcolm’s rage to amplify the voice of black
American consciousness. Without King there’d be even fewer black
students and professors at Harvard, Princeton and Yale; without
Malcolm there’d be no Africana Studies programmes at any of those
esteemed institutions. No King, no black executives on Wall Street; no
Malcolm, no millionaire rappers or multi-billion-dollar global hip-hop
industry built on their loud, proud, vive le black difference

Civil Rights expanded the literal physical space blacks could occupy
in lily-white America, while Black Power extended the range of our
metaphysical assault on the American racial imaginary. Civil Rights
gave Don Cornelius the legal right to produce and own his nationally
syndicated TV show, but Black Power ensured that show would be Soul

The Black Power Mixtape Remixed 1967-1975
[[link removed]] is an exotic document of this
turbulent, extremely violent transitional moment in American race
history. Exotic because it’s the culmination of the near-decade an
intrepid Swedish TV news team spent interviewing prominent Black
American radicals of the day – Stokley Carmichael, Huey Newton,
Bobby Seale, Eldridge Cleaver, Elaine Brown and Angela Davis. All were
dramatic, eloquent, charismatic figures of their time who, except for
the still-active Davis, are today hardly household names to the
average black American under 40.

Like Jimi Hendrix or Bob Dylan, they all seem incredibly well-prepared
in their mid 20s to set the world aflame intellectually and dominate
the media – but far less prepared than the Viet Cong or Fidel Castro
to withstand the withering, brute and constitutionally illegal attacks
directed at them and theirs by the US government, especially the
FBI’s fascistic overlord J Edgar Hoover.

Time has not diminished their critiques of American power or racism,
nor their undeniable star power – any of them and their radical
histories could easily sustain a documentary or narrative feature film
of its own. Mixtape captures most of them in the short period before
they would be tried, convicted or exiled by Hoover’s stated and
manically implemented obsession with preventing the “rise of another
black prophet” after King.

The footage of Carmichael and Davis is the most poignant and
illuminating. Though the film doesn’t say so, it was Carmichael who
brought the phrase ‘Black Power’ into vogue, famously goading King
to give it airtime near the end of the two-week-long march to Selma,
Alabama. The film demands that those who don’t know these figures
investigate them afterwards for more background and context. On film
the jocular Carmichael proves so at ease in his own skin that he could
have given Sidney Poitier competition as a leading man, and challenged
Bob Marley as a lyrical protest balladeer.

Carmichael invites himself to take over an interview the news crew had
wrangled with his mother in the Chicago-projects apartment in which he
was raised. He then patiently extracts from her the pained admission
that his Trinidadian immigrant father, a skilled carpenter, was a
lifelong victim of employment discrimination.

As noted by progressive hip-hop MC Talib Kweli in his voiceover,
Carmichael emerges here as a “regular guy” who also happened to be
a incendiary and mesmerising speaker – one still so provocative that
Kweli recalls being accosted by FBI and TSA agents at an airport after
9/11 for merely listening to a 40-year-old Carmichael speech. Some may
take Kweli’s intimation of wiretaps as conspiratorial and
apocryphal, but no-one familiar with Hoover’s paranoia and
surveillance of black progressives will be among them. (The biggest
laugh in the film comes from Hoover’s claim that the most dangerous
threat to the internal security of the United States was the Black
Panther party’s free breakfast program. But Hoover was not joking.)

The progress of the film is also a tacit record of the Panther’s
off-screen dismantling by Nixon and Hoover’s COINTELPRO conspiracy
against black leadership. The Panther’s demise by exile,
imprisonment and judicial malfeasance is presented at a glance, but
the Panthers expended all their political capital on the campaigns to
Free Huey Newton, Bobby Seale and Angela Davis.

Davis’s prison interview here offers the most astute and moving
rationale for extreme black retaliation to American racial extremists.
When asked to justify the advocacy of black violence, Davis recalls
her childhood experience of her Birmingham, Alabama community being
routinely bombed by Klansmen at the behest of notorious county sheriff
Bull Connor. Davis recalls this motherfucker using local radio to
promote and direct such violence on a weekly basis. The extreme
close-up of her angry, watering eyes when she speaks of the discovery
of four classmates’ body parts after the infamous 1963 Birmingham
church bombing provides all the justification for retribution any
rational person should need.

Davis also emerges as the figure from that time still alive, active
and significant to her community today. Hip-hop MC and folksinger John
Forte, who came to prominence in the mid 1990s with The Fugees, spent
eight years in federal prison on drug-trafficking charges. He recalls
how Davis’s advocacy for the abolition of the American prison system
was a text he often shared with fellow prisoners.

We can assume the Swedish documentarists’ coverage and interest in
black America ended in 1975, along with America’s war against
Vietnam, once their gloomy focus had turned to the devastation
high-grade heroin was wreaking on Harlem. The film’s final
interview, with a cherubic woman barely out of her teens overcoming a
former life of addiction and prostitution, captures the bleak promise
left among the ruins of the movement.

International media wouldn’t return with much vigour to reporting on
black America until hip-hop and the crack epidemic created a new
generation of fiery progressives, and made urban America’s misery
index appear again newsworthy enough to warrant the world stage.


_GREG TATE is an African-American writer, musician, and producer. The
focus of his writing has been African-American music and culture. He
is a founding member of the Black Rock Coalition and the leader of
Burnt Sugar._

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