Monday, September 5, 2011

Reflecting on News of the 'Black Power Mixtape' (Documentary Video)

The video embedded in this post is from Democracy NOW! and is about a documentary co-produced by actor Danny Glover. As described on its YouTube page:
(the documentary and the clip feature "rare archival footage of Angela Davis, Huey P. Newton, Stokely. The Democracy NOW! episode and was) broadcast from Park City, Utah, home of the Sundance Film Festival, the nation's largest festival for independent cinema. One of this year's selection that is creating a lot of buzz is a documentary called "The Black Power Mixtape." The film features rare archival footage shot between 1967 and 1975 by two Swedish journalists and was discovered in the basement of Swedish public television 30 years later. We speak with renowned actor and activist Danny Glover who co-produced "The Black Power Mixtape."
For me, the clip brings back some memories worthy of more contemplation. Looking at the documentary's poster, I remember sitting in a chair at my grandmother's house reading a magazine with an article about Angela Davis and how I stared for a long while at her picture. I need to recapture what I was thinking then.

The New York Times also has an article about the documentary, Power to the People, but Quietly. From that article:
... [A]round 2007, Goran Hugo Olsson, a documentary filmmaker, stumbled upon the 16-millimeter material as he looked for footage for a project about the Philadelphia soul singer Billy Paul (“Me and Mrs. Jones”). The trove included interviews with members of the Black Panther Party and a candid conversation with Angela Davis in a California jail. “I immediately realized that these images couldn’t stay in this basement,” Mr. Olsson, 45, said during a recent visit to New York. “It was my duty to put them out for a new audience.”

Using material from some 20 different Swedish television productions, he conceived the backbone of a feature-length documentary eventually titled “The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975,” which opens in New York on Sept. 9. The movie also contains new audio interviews with veterans of the movement, including Ms. Davis, as well as younger artists and activists inspired by it, like the rapper Talib Kweli.
And also this:
The documentary reflects a trend in black studies scholarship. “What we’re seeing is really a re-evaluation of the black power period,” said Peniel Joseph, a professor at Tufts University and the author of “Waiting ’Til the Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power in America,” from 2006.

“There are striking juxtapositions between the documentary image of black power and our popular memory of it,” which he described as an “emotionally charged and destructive movement.”
As a black woman of 51 years, I grew up with the Black Power Movement as a common feature on the nightly news and as a topic under discussion at family gatherings. So, the themes of this documentary reside in my own memory. I do recollect thinking that the Black Power Movement had more radical rhetoric than Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s speeches, and I recall that its members were usually called "militants" and portrayed as "dangerous." These stereotypes popped up in television police dramas and blaxploitation films such as Sweet Sweetback's Badass Song as well as other movies such as The Spook Who Sat By The Door.

However, I don't remember being afraid of the movement's energy or focus. Perhaps I was not afraid because my mother also took me to plays at Free Southern Theater and gave me books that approached the black struggle in more complex terms. Therefore, I was drawn to ideas of the movement, and its emphases, its art, poetry, drama and music despite being too young to be seriously involved or to understand the sacrifice and danger of speaking out and associating black skin with any kind of power.

Nevertheless, I continued to identify with the right to equal freedom and equal influence, and when I think of the Black Power Movement now, I also recall a conversation in my 1973 Civics class at a girls boarding school in Virginia about the Olympic medal winners who raised their fist in what was perceived then to be a "black power salute" during the 1968 games. A white student, JK, the daughter of a judge, was very outspoken and if ever there was a girl who fully embraced her white privilege, she was it. She declared with much passion that those black men should have been "horsewhipped." I think she attributed the sentiment to her father, the judge, and I was suddenly aware that powerful people in the courts that were supposed to render justice were also often racists. The anger that swelled in me as I listened to her would have burned her alive if she could have felt it.

The concepts of that movement stayed with me so long that in 2006, still fascinated enough with its figures on a subconscious level, I jumped at the chance to attend a salon at Amiri Baraka's home in New Jersey just to get a feel for what he and his circle and the old days may have been like in person. I enjoyed a conversation then with his wife, Amina, also a creative artist, who was busy with food in the kitchen, a very warm, nurturing woman. And I was also able to talk to the poet himself very briefly, but that's sort of a blur. (I can't find my notes from the encounter at the moment or I'd share more about my impressions.) That night my mind kept shifting to new territory as I looked around. It flipped back and forth from black issues to women's issues while I observed the comings and goings of the evening, the trail of poets, dancers, musicians, aspiring this or thats, and the people who drew the spotlight.

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