From Sweden, a New Vision of America's Black Power Movement

The director of The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 talks about how he unearthed unseen video of activists and enlisted the input of Questlove,Talib Kweli, and others


Stokely Carmichael speaks in The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975

The faces onscreen are familiar: Stokely Carmichael and Huey Newton, Angela Davis, and Eldridge Cleaver.

So are the events depicted, among them the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Olympic black power salute, the Attica riot, and the Vietnam War.

Yet The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975, a documentary opening in limited release this weekend and premiering on demand September 14, offers the rare chance to experience them anew.

Drawn from hours of long-buried footage shot by Swedish journalists—consisting of interviews with many of the premiere black power figures and an in-depth dissection of a divided America rife with profound social unrest—this 100-minute compendium reframes what was once widely seen as a radical movement as an important, necessary step on the road toward full equality.

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Here, Black Power Mixtape filmmaker Göran Olsson shares his thoughts on the ambitious project.

How'd you come across this footage and what was your initial reaction to it?

I heard rumors since I was a very young filmmaker that Sweden had more material on the Black Panthers than in America. I didn't believe it. Researching for another project, I stumbled across this. I realized first of all, this could be a great film and secondly, it's my duty to put this out. This should not be lying around here. It's for a lot of other people around the world.

"These people put energy into the process of democracy, and you have to do that all the time or you get a deadlock."

Why were all these influential people so open with the Swedish journalists?

Being from the outside was a very important factor, but also Swedes had a reputation at the time. It started long before, when Dr. [Martin Luther] King received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. That connected the establishment in Sweden to the civil rights movement. And then the younger people connected to what came after Dr. King. All these people had been in Sweden, lecturing in universities, so I think they knew that people in Sweden [were] open and interested in these subjects.

Another factor I think is Sweden was neutral at the time. This was the peak of the Cold War, you could say, and Sweden decided—being a tiny but very rich country—that Swedes should produce all media for Swedes. So we had people going all around the world, reporting to the Swedish audience.

Do you get the sense that, in recent years, there's been a re-evaluation of the Black Power movement?

What I really feel, studying this as an outsider [is], I think, that the stigma or the label that these people had for being violent and terrorists, or whatever, that's started to change. The mainstream society took the J. Edgar Hoover view of them as dangerous to society, and a threat to everyone basically, and I think that's total crap.

You have to remember that these people were not extra violent or driven by rage, or something. They all came from university. Even the Panthers started at Berkeley. This was the first generation, you could say, that got an education. They used that education to think critically.

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Robert Levin writes about film and other entertainment topics for amNewYork, Inside Jersey, Backstage, and elsewhere. He is a member of the New York Film Critics Online guild.

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