Surprisingly enough, this is actually a Swedish documentary about the black power movement, 1967 – 75. Back then, the Swedes were critical of US policy in Vietnam, earning the ire of a TV Guide cover story, attacking Sweden for “anti-Americanism.” Telling the truth to Americans has always been interpreted as “anti-American” in the ruling circles. After all “American” is more myth than reality and always has been.
Black Power Mixtape is part of that recent US history that doesn’t get taught in high schools. This is crucial history, and it exposes how the country actually works. It is impossible to understand US policy and the position of the government vis a vis its people, you, without understanding people’s movements and struggles. Power, corruption, threats, terrorism, murder, imprisonment, invasion, mass murder, the reality and the brochure disagree.
The film goes in chronological order, beginning with Stokely Carmichael and his assessment of the strategies of Dr. King against the white power structure. The war in Vietnam simmers in the background throughout. Dr. King’s Beyond Vietnam speech and his final speech on the eve of his assassination are included. Dr. King, of course, was killed by the state for turning against the war and speaking out on institutionalized poverty and the mechanisms of empire and exploitation.
With the string of political assassinations, orchestrated by CIA, FBI and other shady outfits, including JFK, Dr. King, RFK and prominent Black Panther leaders, the 1960s exploded. Malcolm X is featured and Black Panther leaders organized armed resistance and community outreach under the banner of “socialism.” This sends the group to the top of the US state hit list.
One speaker, in 2010, recounts how he was stopped at a US airport recently and interrogated for listening to a Stokely Carmichael speech from 1967. The feds are still fighting this war on minorities, although hardly anyone today even recognizes Carmichael’s name!
The Swedes examine the perspectives of black Americans throughout the period. Institutionalized poverty, conflicting ideologies, conflicting strategies, the turbulence of a nation at war with itself, as the 70’s roll around we have the Attica prison riot, presented as a revolutionary act. The prisoners took 38 guards hostage and demanded basic human rights. While negotiating in good faith, the National Guard stormed the prison and shot more than 40 people, killing guard hostages as well as the prisoners. Claiming that prisoners cut the throats of guards in the early public propaganda, the autopsies proved otherwise: all were shot.
The trumped up politically-motivated case against Angela Davis is at the center of the film. Clearly showing how the state manipulates the system and persecutes its opponents ruthlessly, this is a pivotal moment. Davis was recognized across the nation as well as across the world as an icon standing up for black people and their rights. It was Ronald Reagan who led the charge in California to send her to the death chamber for a crime she had nothing to do with.
The government’s strategy of flooding the ghettos with drugs began with Nixon’s declaration of the “War on Drugs” in the early 70s. Like much of the film, it is based on anecdotal stories from interviews. This particular angle could have used more bolstering from research and sourcing. The American people simply don’t know anything about this for the most part and won’t get the truth from corporate media. It’s true, of course. The CIA has been deeply involved in bringing drugs into the US for decades. This is highly covert and bringing that info out is dangerous. But sources are there if one digs.
With the destruction of the ghettos through drug addiction and poverty in the early 70s, comes the rise of Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam.
Heroin would give way to crack in the 80s which would usher in crystal meth later. The effects are the same. The poor are devastated and disorganized, fighting for scraps and under paramilitary siege. These are the undercurrents of America, the reality that prime time has never heard of.
Black Power Mixtape is bleak and revolutionary. It’s a cold, hard, sober look at how we got here. Attempting to strike a positive note at film’s end, it’ hard to find the silver lining in such an overwhelmingly unjust system.