Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
The film Black Power Mixtape is a look back in history to the struggles of the US civil rights movement, with footage from 1967 to 1975. Retrieved from the depths of Swedish television archives, the film is a collection of interviews, images and commentary by Swedish journalists of the time. Directed by Göran Olsson, it pays fitting tribute to the power of documentary and, from a contemporary point of view, demonstrates the dividends of documentation in the midst of struggle and political activism.
Using footage shown in chronological order, the film gives an insight to the visions of different pivotal activists in the black power movement. Interviews and speeches with leading figures prove both touching and powerful. Activist Stokely Carmichael’s sharp turn of phrase, in the context of an intimate interview between him and his mother, forms part of an invaluable historical snapshot. The interview demonstrates, directly and personally, Carmichael’s rise above the generational passivity and rhetoric that preceded him.
The film also covers contemporary reactions to the vilification of the black power movement. Angela Davis’s eloquence is noteworthy as she outlines, with righteous incredulity, the often one-dimensional discourse of violence associated with the black power movement without reference to the barbarism and violent culture initiated and perpetuated by white America. Interviews such as this, alongside speeches and other footage, give the viewer a real sense of the notion of black power and the different approaches activists and leaders took in their fight for equality.
Black Power Mixtape has its limitations, however, and its narration is at times lacking. It is striking that although we are given a vivid feel for some of the activists of the American civil rights movement, the modern-day counterparts providing commentary in the film are mostly of musical standing. While the contributions from artists such as Erykah Badu, Talib Kweli and Questlove are often thought-provoking and have their place, the absence of current academic and political figures is noticeable and robs the documentary of important perspectives and flavour.
The irony in Erykah Badu’s comments about black people needing to document and tell their own stories is that Black Power Mixtape is told essentially from a Swedish perspective. Commentators such as Badu and Questlove are given the platform to comment but the structure is driven by the Swedish footage available.
The documentary also covers such a large range of topics that the subject matter is almost too big for it to handle and it suffers a loss of depth. While this is inevitable to some extent given the time constraints of a film of just over 90 minutes, some issues are just too important to leave aside. The lack of reference to the often misogynistic nature of the black power movement, for example, leaves a gaping hole in the narrative and its discussion of notions of black power.
For a film so seemingly political, Black Power Mixtape manages to raise weighty issues born of the civil rights movement without properly acknowledging the proximity of these events and how their effects are still being felt today. Instead, as a conclusion, we are told in a passing, somewhat stereotypical statement that the black power movement’s legacy can be found in certain forms of hip hop, reducing the issues raised by the film – and the movement – to a musical genre.
The lack of modern-day context in tackling such an important issue leaves me with a raised brow, particularly when considering that Talib Kweli’s hip hop company Blacksmith Records was involved in the film’s production. Even the use of the word ‘mixtape’ in the title, while on the one hand referring to the mix of different footage in the film, points ambiguously to the hip hop soundtrack and music in general.
Although Black Power Mixtape is invaluable in the rare footage and insights it provides, the film’s relative lack of contemporary academic and political analysis leaves it incomplete. Though the film offers powerful commentary from the past, it is as telling in what it lacks as in what it offers.
While it is made clear from the content that oppression gives rise to what Talib Kweli describes as ordinary people ‘standing up for themselves’, the film leaves the impression that the struggles and achievements of the civil rights movement have done little more than reap a politically conscious group of contemporary hip hop musicians. Is this the real power that civil rights activists fought for?
Black Power Mixtape is out now on DVD
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Nick Dowson looks at the new wave of co-ops and community groups where people are building their own truly affordable homes
Hsiao-Hung Pai meets people affected by the fire, and finds sadness and suffering mixed with a continuing wariness of the official investigations
Chris Williamson MP, winner of the election's tightest marginal, Derby North, and recently reappointed shadow minister for fire services, talks to Ashish Ghadiali about Jeremy Corbyn, the housing crisis and winning from the left
The Corbyn-supporting group is preparing for another election at any moment, writes Adam Peggs – and now has the potential to create powerful training initiatives, union links and party reform efforts
The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services
With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali
To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi
Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun
Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh
With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook
‘We remembered that convictions can inspire and motivate people’: interview with Lisa Nandy MP
The general election changed the rules, but there are still tricky issues for Labour to face, Lisa Nandy tells Ashish Ghadiali
Everything you know about Ebola is wrong
Vicky Crowcroft reviews Ebola: How a People’s Science Helped End an Epidemic, by Paul Richards
Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for an online editor
Closing date for applications: 1 September.
Theresa May’s new porn law is ridiculous – but dangerous
The law is almost impossible to enforce, argues Lily Sheehan, but it could still set a bad precedent
Interview: Queer British Art
James O'Nions talks to author Alex Pilcher about the Tate’s Queer British Art exhibition and her book A Queer Little History of Art
Cable the enabler: new Lib Dem leader shows a party in crisis
Vince Cable's stale politics and collusion with the Conservatives belong in the dustbin of history, writes Adam Peggs
Anti-Corbyn groupthink and the media: how pundits called the election so wrong
Reporting based on the current consensus will always vastly underestimate the possibility of change, argues James Fox
Michael Cashman: Commander of the Blairite Empire
Lord Cashman, a candidate in Labour’s internal elections, claims to stand for Labour’s grassroots members. He is a phony, writes Cathy Cole
Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part
Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper
Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s
Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach
Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.
Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite
Power to the renters: Turning the tide on our broken housing system
Heather Kennedy, from the Renters Power Project, argues it’s time to reject Thatcher’s dream of a 'property-owning democracy' and build renters' power instead
Your vote can help Corbyn supporters win these vital Labour Party positions
Left candidate Seema Chandwani speaks to Red Pepper ahead of ballot papers going out to all members for a crucial Labour committee
Join the Rolling Resistance to the frackers
Al Wilson invites you to take part in a month of anti-fracking action in Lancashire with Reclaim the Power
The Grenfell public inquiry must listen to the residents who have been ignored for so long
Councils handed housing over to obscure, unaccountable organisations, writes Anna Minton – now we must hear the voices they silenced