[moderator: Portside ran this Danny Glover/Democracy Now
interview on "The Black Power Mixtape" on February 7,
2011. But for those of you, especially in Chicago, who
didn't get to see the film here's your chance . . .]
"The Black Power Mixtape" --Danny Glover Discusses New
Doc Featuring Rare Archival Footage of Angela Davis,
Huey P. Newton, Stokely Carmichael
Guest: Danny Glover, actor and activist.
January 24, 2011
Trove of Unseen Footage Revives History in `The Black
by Channing Kennedy
September 6, 2011
What Ever Happened to Black Power?
"The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975" is an incredible
documentary with an equally incredible story behind it.
The film, which opens in New York this week, is
constructed entirely from hundreds of hours of archival
footage of the black power movement, footage that's not
just rare, but unseen; it was shot by a Swedish news
crew in the 1960s and 1970s, then left untouched in a
Swedish TV station's cellar for 30 years, where it was
discovered by documentary filmmaker Göran Hugo Olsson.
Olsson knew he had something amazing on his hands and
had no difficulty finding interested parties. In the
finished feature-length film, the present-day voices of
Harry Belafonte, Erykah Badu, Angela Davis, Bobby Seale,
?uestlove and others bring context to the history.
"The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975" drew critical
acclaim after screening at Sundance in January. I had
the privilege of seeing it at the True/False Film
Festival in Missouri, and I haven't shut up about it
since. So I was thrilled to speak with Olsson on a
transatlantic Skype call last week, and to ask him about
Sweden's little-heard connection to the black power
movement, his role as a white, European man telling the
story of black American communities, and the future of
(CK) Thanks for being up at midnight to speak with me,
Göran. So how has the reception to the film been so far?
(GHO) It's been very good, worldwide. Of course, America
is a special case. You have to remember that abroad,
it's a very dense film in terms of verbal information.
People not native in English, they're following the film
and enjoying it, but they don't get the small,
interesting stuff that people are actually saying
between the lines.
We had a special showing for the Black Panther veterans
in the Bay Area last week, and they were so into it-I
couldn't attend, but it was a very important screening
for me. I got reports that they were screaming and
yelling and they were so happy. Looking back from the
present day, we only see the top of the iceberg, we see
Angela Davis. But there were so many people who were so
important and made such sacrifices. Ericka Huggins, for
example; she was in a very bad situation where they
threw her in jail as a political prisoner, and took her
kid away from her. She was a very important figure for
the movement. She didn't make it into the film, but she
was at that screening. That meant a lot to me.
(CK) So how did you, as a Swede, come to be familiar
with the American-born black power movement? Is it
something you learned about in history classes in
(GHO) Well, there was a strong connection between Sweden
and black people in America, and I think it began when
Dr. King received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. That
connected Sweden, even the establishment in Sweden, to
Dr. King and the civil rights movement. And Sweden was
neutral, so many black people defected from the Vietnam
War via Germany, and then came to Sweden, sought asylum
here. We also had a lot of black Americans coming here
from Paris; when the great jazz era of the 1950s and
1960s was over, they came to Scandinavia.
Sweden, well, we were a very radical society at the
time! I was going to school in the '70s and '80s, and
this was an important topic for our education.
(CK) Discussing the process by which you made the film:
how much footage was there, and how much didn't make it
into the film?
(GHO) That's a very simple question, and a very tricky
problem to solve. I think we had 20 hours of really good
material, and then maybe 40 hours that could go in, and
then a hundred hours that could be filler. There are
only two images in the film that we took from elsewhere,
from outside our found footage. That's the hard part of
doing this film, of course, is leaving out material that
we couldn't fit into the structure.
(CK) On the topic of video editing, an area in which a
person can have a great deal of unseen influence over a
story: how do you think your perspective as a white man
affected the story you told about these black
communities? How did it influence what you put in and
what got left out?
(GHO) For this project, I'm not thinking about myself as
a white man; I'm thinking about myself as a Swede. I'm
an outsider looking at something that I can identify
with. I'm using the same method-or lack of method, lack
of knowledge-as the filmmaker and journalist did back
when they recorded the images. You know what I mean? The
reception that I got, and that the documentarians and
journalists got in the '60s and '70s-coming from Sweden,
knocking on the Black Panthers' door, and saying,
"Hello, we are from Sweden, what are you doing here?"
These people understand that I don't have all the
history, but they also understand that I'm not stupid,
even though I don't have the language.
Everyone was very polite, very forthcoming and very
generous in trying to explain these things to me. People
have been so generous to me-I don't think they'd be that
to an American, or even a British documentary filmmaker.
But they understand that I don't understand.
(CK) So you're saying your ability to ask stupid
questions in the context was a real asset?
(GHO) Yeah, of course. Also, I think, as Swedes, our
perspective on this issue is a global one, and I think
they appreciated that.
(CK) A friend of mine whom I saw the film with wondered
why more time wasn't given to the government's efforts
to introduce drugs into black communities. That seems
like a really key point.
(GHO) It's a good question, and the answer is
unfortunately very easy: because we had no footage of
it. First, it's not an easy thing to get on film. And I
don't think the filmmakers-well, maybe they knew, but
that's a limitation of being an outsider, that they
couldn't get more into that.
How hard the FBI hit on this movement is obvious now,
when they're releasing classified papers and documents.
For example, recently we found out that the FBI called
up Stokely Carmichael and said, "You have to leave the
country or you will get killed," and he said, "Yeah, if
you want to play it that way, be my guest. Come along."
So they hang up. That didn't work, so they called his
mother and said, "If your son doesn't leave the country,
you will lose your son." And the same night, he got on a
cargo ship to Africa and basically never came back. He
could face the FBI, but he couldn't face the fact that
his mother would be in grief.
And that describes not just the method, but how much
they knew about this man and his connections, about his
family. You see that in the film, that they knew about
this strong connection and they used it. All the
conspiracies, the FBI is doing blah blah-they were true!
They were true.
But as a filmmaker, you have to realize that film is a
very. superficial medium compared to books. You can't
explain something, but you can meet a person, get a
feeling for her in a deeper way. Books can give you
another dimension and they can't compete. They do
different work to tell the story. If you want to go
deeper, you have to go to the book. Which we also say in
(CK) Now, speaking not just of race, but of time: since
this footage was shot, our situation has changed a great
deal, but racial inequality hasn't left the U.S., or
Sweden, or the rest of the world. What lessons are there
for us in this rediscovered footage?
(GHO) I think the black power movement is a blueprint-
not only to other movements, but on a human individual
level. I believe it comes from Malcolm X: You can't sit
and wait around for someone to come around and give you
your rights, just hand out rights. You have to stand up
for your rights yourself. You have that duty as a
person. And if that's not enough, you have to fight for
your rights. Even me, as a middle-class white man living
in Sweden, I have to fight for my kids at school, or in
my workplace. You can't be passive and hope for someone
to fulfill some kind of freedom for you. You have to do
(CK) Do you think that applies when the struggles are
systemic, like in education or economics? Is the black
power movement still relevant, still reproducible, when
you can't easily point to "The Man"?
(GHO) That's complicated, but I think the underlying
level of every struggle, in Egypt or America or Sweden,
is in the segregation between the economic classes and
access to education.
People tend to forget that all these people-Stokely,
Angela Davis, the Black Panthers-they came from
universities. They were the first generation to get a
higher education in numbers. And in university, they got
to analyze the society and their situation and put words
on it. Education played a key role in the black power
(CK) One of the reasons you were able to find this
footage in the first place is because it was on '70s
film stock, which has a long lifespan under the right
conditions. That's great, but making a documentary in
the '70s was prohibitively expensive. Nowadays,
everything is documented, and everything is put up on
YouTube, but there's no guarantee that any of it will
survive into the next decades, or what of it is getting
heard. As a filmmaker, what do you think is better for
democracy: everyone's stories told at once or a few
stories that survive?
(GHO) I think it's much better now. Of course, you see
all the footage that's coming out from around the world,
from phones and so on. But another factor is that so
many small cheap documentaries are getting made, even if
they're never finished. That footage is getting
preserved and anything could come out of that.
Is it better? I don't know. But this is the world we
have, and we have to make the most of it. You can be
nostalgic, but nobody would really want to go back, to
any point in history, given the option.
(CK) Do you plan to make this film accessible to
(GHO) Yeah, that was my goal all the time. My goal
wasn't to go to film festivals and destroy a year of my
life, sitting in airplanes and pollution. My goal was to
cut this film and make it attractive, and put those
ridiculous film-festival logos on it in order to make it
stand out in the library. Not a gray cover, educational
purpose, this is good for you. I wanted it to be like a
book, to sit in a library for you now or for a student
10 years from now, for people interested in this time,
or in Angela, or whatever, you can find it. That was my
goal, to make this history accessible forever.
'The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975' ***1/2
October 14, 2011
Featuring: Stokely Carmichael, Eldridge Cleaver, Bobby
Seale and Angela Davis
Credits: Directed by Goran Hugo Olsson; produced by
Annika Rogell. A Sundance Selects release.
Opens Fri. exclusively at the Music Box Theatre, 3733 N.
Southport Ave; Chicago, Illinois also available via
video on demand.
Running time: 1:40.
With a mellow sense of immediacy "The Black Power
Mixtape 1967-1975" illuminates the notion that
historical perspective depends on individual
perspective, and on who's behind the camera when the
history is being made.
This is an unusually rewarding feat of archival research
and recovery. Across nearly a decade of roiling life and
times in America in the 1960s and '70s, Swedish
television journalists traveled to the U.S. with an eye
toward the civil rights and Black Power movements, as
well as the antiwar demonstrations. They took their
cameras into the headquarters of the Oakland, Calif.
Black Panthers, where (we learn) the young children of
the movement were greeted by signs on the walls
reminding them to "Speak Politely" and "Do Not Hit or
Leaders of the Black Power and Black Panther movements,
notably the activists Stokely Carmichael and Angela
Davis, emerge as compelling voices and complex human
beings here. Other Swedish TV interviews with
unidentified members of African-American neighborhoods
in many different cities revealed the day-to-day
struggles of the heroin junkie, the socioeconomically
deprived, the politically marginalized. At one point
"Black Power Mixtape" takes us directly on board an
astonishing Swedish-led tour bus through Harlem, led by
a guide who scares his customers but good with all the
different ways they might be attacked or killed if they
get off the bus.
Some of this news footage made it on air. Some of it
didn't. Combing through hundreds of hours' worth
filmmaker Goran Hugo Olsson creates a mosaic of voices
and faces. The surprises keep coming, even though Olsson
maintains a clear, conventional chronological order. A
long, searching interview with Davis, one of the film's
highlights, isn't like most TV inteviews I remember
seeing with the figurehead; dealing with a sympathetic
foreign journalist, Davis very likely let her guard
down, allowing her rhetoric to shift into the sort of
reflective commentary the nightly news, back in the
three-network era, wouldn't have favored anyway.
For the documentary, Olsson recorded audio-only
observations delivered by author Robin Kelley, recording
artist Erykah Badu and others. Some of what they have to
say is superbly on point and deeply felt. A lot of it,
though, has a tough time matching what's on screen,
which is timeless and invaluable in our age of perpetual
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