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In the late 1960s, several curious Swedish television journalists travelled to the United States to examine the growing unrest in the young democracy. Like contemporary Tocquevilles, they captured the growing pains of a nation waging wars in Vietnam, on drugs, and against racism. The birth and growth of the Black Power Movement , captured in this footage, laid dormant in a Swedish studio basement for over 30 years; today, it has been rediscovered and edited into a moving documentary that is a valuable historical artifact and a powerful reminder of our recent past.
Directed by Göran Olsson, The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 draws exclusively upon the Swedish footage, pairing it with a stellar soundtrack and contemporary audio interviews with Black artists, activists, and intellectuals. Like any good mixtape, it includes well-known, memorized hits– speeches from the calm and stoic Martin Luther King, the lively, pointed Stokely Carmichael, and the brilliant, afrroed Angela Davis. But perhaps more importantly, it includes those rare unknown jams, carefully chosen by the creator, that unexpectedly prick at your heart – a young sex worker speaks about her heroine addiction, an elderly bookstore owner speaks in memorized poetry about his experiences. These tracks come together to form an album that samples a wide range of Black experiences and won the Audience Award at Sundance this year.
One of the most unexpected parts of a documentary entitled The Black Power Mixtape 1967-175 is how it illuminates Swedish-American relations of the time. With a gentle innocence and naivety afforded by their outsider status, the Swedish journalists gain access that an American – involved, whether actively or complicity, with the bigotry of the time – might not. As an unpopular war in Vietnam rages, these Swedes travel to find the truth during a period of international anti-Americanism. When a T.V. Guide article appears critiquing the foreign press’ coverage of the United States, they interview an executive there to dig deeper. Hindsight, knowing the war to be an ultimate failure and T.V. Guide falling in its cultural power, makes the exchange a humorous one.
The question is raised, though, could white Americans have collected such footage? At one point in the film, a contemporary black intellectual remarks that white interest in black culture is inherently racist, pointing to an otherization that occurs similar to Orientalism. Could our very interests and passions be bigoted? I won’t offer an easy answer, just point you toward the complicated collection of songs – some smooth, others rough – that appear on this powerful new mixtape.
The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 is playing at the Music Box Theatre. More information athttp://www.musicboxtheatre.com/