- Category: Culture
- Created on Sunday, 19 February 2012 11:00
- Written by Naima Ramos-Chapman
This was first posted at huffingtonpost.com.
To its credit, The Black Power Mixtape did show the Black Power movement in a more positive light by demonstrating how a people could be moved to (and rightfully so) pick up arms and defend themselves from police brutality, and by highlighting the lesser known programs that were beneficial to the black community's survival like free breakfast programs for children. Where the film fell shortest was in its inability or unwillingness to connect this extraordinary moment in history to the injustices we face today.
'The Black Power Mixtape': Who's Telling You Your Stories?
By Naima Ramos-Chapman
I was dopily excited to hear about this doc via Danny Glover on Democracy Now way back when he was still shopping it around the Sundance Film Festival. The Black Power Mixtapeis a compilation of never-before-seen footage of the Black Power movement shot by Swedish journalists in the 1960s and 1970s. Left neglected in a Swedish TV station's cellar for 30 years, it was discovered by documentary filmmaker Göran Hugo Olsson who conceptualized the linking of the sparse and seemingly incohesive material of the movement with amazingly shot intimate b-roll of children playing in defunct playgrounds, commentary from Erykah Badu, Talib Kweli, John Forte and other "socially conscious" artists, looped to a sweet soundtrack crafted by none-other than ?uestlove... what was there not to love?
How about everything I just described minus the soundtrack?
I love Badu, I do, but I couldn't stand how many times her commentary was featured. There just wasn't enough "a-ha!" moments to justify giving her the mic that many times in the doc. The decision to have contemporary "socially conscious" artists comment at all, had to be purely for marketing purposes. I get it; throw some ?uestlove commissioned tracks on there, let the artists attempt to relate to a time in history they [seemed] to know little about and the 20-something year old viewers will follow. I know I did, and It was cute for while but a catchy hook can piss you off and that's essentially what happened here. The marketing move turned gimmicky too soon, and vastly overshadowed the very critical and analytical commentary shared by those like professor Robin Kelley, Kathleen Cleaver or Angela Davis, who actually have the street cred to talk about this specific moment in time.
From Dr. Jared A. Ball, a professor of communications at Morgan State University via BAR:
"We need to tell our stories"
Now that was an "A-ha!"moment. Ironically, Badu spits some sense about the need for us to tell our own stories -- to ensure we don't get nixed out of our own history but I can't help but think that this comment was kept in to suggest that this particular retelling of what happened during the Black Power movement is somehow authentic -- that or Olsson was a twisted sense of humor. It is not. Since the archived footage was shot, edited and directed by Swedes it cannot inherently be "authentic". In this instance, we may have told our stories to a rolling camera but we did not decide what was left in, what was kept out, and the overall messaging that would be conveyed to the consumer. Over at Colorlines Olsson explains how being an outsider, a Swede helped (rather than hindered) him create this film: