Monday, January 16, 2012

The Black Power Mix Tape 1967 - 1975

The Brooklyn Academy of Music put substance into celebrating M.L. King, Jr. Day in Brooklyn. Two theaters within BAM Rose Cinema were packed with people absorbing "The Black Power Mix Tape 1967 - 1975." This documentary is a compilation of interviews and B-roll with people key to the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements done by Swedish reporters very attuned to the social movement occurring in and by Americans. It mixes old interviews with Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture), Eldridge Cleaver, Martin Luther King, Jr., Angela Davis and others with voiceover commentaries from Talib Kweli, Sonia Sanchez, Abiodun Oyewole, and Erykah Badu, to name a few.

The Swedes' persistence in broadcasting what was happening in the United States brought condemnation on them and created friction between national leaders. Even TV Guide--not associated with Pulitzer Prize winning journalism--criticized the reporters for exposing only the social problems. In the spirit of the New York Times, they were simply broadcasting all the news that was fit to air.

The time period contains the expansion of Martin Luther King's concerns to global and class struggle, King's assassination, the birth of the Black Panthers, the evolution of SNCC, the arrest of Angela Davis, the Vietnam War, the heroin epidemic, and the choices the larger US black population made in carving a place within US society. The feminist and gay rights movements acknowledge using the terminology and tactics of the Black Power and Civil Rights leadership.

It was uplifting to see the jovial and warm side of Kwame Ture. Angela Davis was the epitome of grace under fire as she spoke passionately about the irony of black people being characterized as violent when she remembers her four young friends in Birmingham being killed by a bomb's explosion or the need for her male family members and neighbors to patrol their community armed due to the frequent brutal and lethal attacks by white society.

While it was later revealed in US news reports that many of the servicemen's corpses held bags of heroin as they were wheeled off the planes and onto American runways, it was startling to revisit the Vietnam war to learn many documented as dying in combat where actually deaths from drug overdose.

The connection between the heroin flooding inner city communities and the average black persons resolve to learn more and do more to change his circumstances was strongly made. The clip of radio announcer Vy Higgensen's lamenting the life of a newborn addicted to heroin is one of many poignant moments in the documentary.

Thought and the clouding of it, is one element of the human dynamic. Most of the leaders featured--Huey Newton, Eldridge Cleaver, Angela Davis, Martin Luther King, Jr, and Kathleen Cleaver--had a lit cigarette between their fingers. Did they consider how their smoking habit impacted their health or the cigarette producers' revenues. Seated behind a desk with stacks of books, the manager of Liberation Bookstore contends the road to black people's empowerment is gaining knowledge and applying it. Unfortunately, narcotics, alcohol and chemicalized food are plentiful in the ghetto.

Getting free from mood altering substances and the promise of what a disciplined life yields was and is the charm of the Nation of Islam (NOI). A young dewy-faced Louis Farrakhan reveals in an interview the stance that the white man is the devil if one understands to be a devil is to be wicked; and the white man has been wicked to blacks. The NOI's ability to rehabilitate drug addicted and undereducated people was well-known during this time. There's footage of a long line of young boys dressed in suits, ties and bows orderly getting on buses. This is a relief from seeing unwashed and miskept children in earlier scenes.

Black Power Mix Tape is not a feel good documentary; rather it is a neutral archive of locations, people, statements and occurrences for the viewer to experience. It is for the viewer to digest and assess. It is for the viewer to make use of the stories relayed.

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