On Saturday, a group of us went to see Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975, and I’m telling you, if you’re in Atlanta, you need to make your way over to Midtown Art Cinema during its limited run. I may go see it again. This is a film I’d love to have in my DVD collection.
This film is the culmination of footage shot by Swedish journalists who came to the U.S. to get a first hand look at the civil unrest that was going on during that time. It was amazing to see that there was an article in a Swedish newspaper that questions the U.S.’s stances on several issues, particularly racism and war. In response, the editor of TV Guide wrote an article calling Sweden anti-American. This was of the highlights of the film for me (of MANY) because it just shows how the media was then and still is connected in various ways and can sway the reader if the reader doesn’t care to try to get a full perspective. This same guy who wrote this article for TV Guide was President Nixon’s right-hand man. There was another journalist, an American, who was interviewed who said that television is just a way of distracting people and it’s a useful tool. Isn’t it amazing that the some of the same things we say today were being said in the 60s and 70s?
That’s one reason I really enjoyed Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975. Seriously, so many of the same issues that are going on now were issues then too. They were talking about the working class and the need for living wages, about equal opportunities, about the need for health care for all, about the need for quality education, about resources being wasted in war, the conditions of prisons, and the list goes on. The difference is that over that 30 year period since, somehow the powers that be have made some of this stuff seem like an afterthought–or like Erykah Badu said while narrating, that we should just be happy to have what we have and not focused on what injustices exist–or like Malcolm X said in the film, like people who respond to mistreatment are the extremists. The film also reinforced in this brain o’ mine how important community and organizing is. One of the things that has always made me sad about the portrayal of the Black Panthers is that so many people don’t know about the programs they created to help the poor communities they represented. They were the ones that started the free breakfast program for kids. They had community schools for students whose parents were fed up with subpar conditions. They had free clinics for people who couldn’t afford basic medical care. But they rarely ever get credit for that because people focus on the gun toting, on the most wanted lists parts. And most of the time you hear rumors that they were anti-anyone who wasn’t black, yet in almost every interview, they said they were for the disenfranchised, no matter what color they were, and were willing to work with anyone who had similar goals–but it’s so easy to put people in a box in order to downplay who they are and the influence they might have. YOUNG people got this done. And had such an impact that America’s favorite gangster J. Edgar Hoover ruled the free breakfast program a top threat to the country and launched COINTELPRO, which we know derailed the organization. Now, let’s think about this. How can a free breakfast program be a threat, let alone a TOP threat?? Because they were feeding and educating these poor kids. Starve a kid of food and knowledge, and you don’t have to worry about them ever questioning their position in life. During our discussion after the film, someone raised a really good question–what ever happened to those kids?? I’d love to know.
Other parts of the film that really stayed with me were seeing people I’ve heard about in different settings than usual. Stokely Carmichael speaking out of the country. Even more moving, Stokely Carmichael with his mom or just chilling. Eldridge Cleaver in Algiers–I’ve so often heard about Panther leaders being exiled or moving overseas, but I’ve never really known what it was like for them or what they did after they moved, so hearing him interviewed while exiled was like whoa! Also, y’all know I love me some Angela Davis, just because she is so unafraid to say what’s on her mind and because even when she was on the America’s Most Wanted list, she stuck to her guns. She was interviewed in jail, and she connected her childhood in Birmingham, which included knowing the four little girls who were killed in the famous church bombing, and her interviewer asking about violence. If I were to cry during the movie, this would have been one of the moments–she told him how crazy it was to ask her about violence when she grew up in violence that was almost unquestioned.
It made me really sad to see the last couple of chapters focused on the War with Drugs that later turned into the War on Drugs. It’s so crazy how our neighborhoods were flooded with heroine and later crack. And it’s amazing to know that there are people overseas who have seen what this nation has put black people through. It’s amazing to me to see all this footage and know that we’ve come a long way, but there’s no way anyone in this country should ever think that we’ve overcome our past. Black people collectively are where we are–little to no wealth esp when compared to our counterparts, still disenfranchised, still suffering–by design. But we have people like Herman Cain who really believe that if you are not wealthy it’s completely your own fault, and there’s no institutional component on the other side of the personal responsibility coin. And at the same time, we’ve lost some of our gumption to act collectively for a solution to our own issues. It’s sad, but I still wonder what we can do now together that can impact this world the way our predecessors did.
So, GO SEE THE FILM!! It’s playing here in Atlanta, as I mentioned before, and it’s also playing in Boston, Philly, San Fran, Seattle, and DC. And it will be in Detroit, Minneapolis, San Diego, and St. Louis soon. Please go see it and tell me what you think!