Last night my husband decided to watch the 2010 documentary entitled The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 (which you can find on Netflix instant streaming). I was doing my own work next to him on the couch, but by a few minutes into the documentary, I was captivated. By the end, I was in tears.
Basically, in the 1960s and 70s, some Swedish television journalists decided to record documentary coverage of American culture in its various facets. To my understanding, this footage was not rediscovered until somewhat recently. What a find. In particular, these journalists focused on the Black Power movement started in the 1960s, and they have some fascinating interviews and clips of figures such as Stokely Carmichael (eventually the “Honorary Prime Minister” of the Black Panther Party), Angela Davis (another prominent activist eventually associated with the Black Panthers), and Louis Farrakhan (black leader of the Nation of Islam). These clips are interwoven with clips and scenes of regular residents of Harlem commenting on tumultuous events (read: assassinations) at the end of the 1960s and beginning of the 1970s. Furthermore, other parts of the film are overlaid with the voices of contemporary African American artists such as Questlove and Erykah Badu commenting on the disturbing similarities between the 1960s and today, with respect to racial inequality in this country.
What I find so interesting about this documentary is that it sheds a different light on and contextualizes the question of pacifism vs. militancy. Figures such as Carmichael had grown frustrated with Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, approach of nonviolence and had instead opted to take up arms out of self-defense against bigoted, violent, white attacks on them (something of a common occurrence). I think what this documentary does is show why such a choice would make sense given these threats in a dominant white society. At the very least, it’s something to think about given the strong Christian commitment to peace and nonviolence; I think it complicates an uncritical espousal of such values. (To be clear, at this point I’m not saying anything stronger than that; I just think this film provides an important entry point into reflection on these issues.) Lastly, I’d wish they included something about James Cone at the same time that they were exploring Louis Farrakhan’s perspective, but c’est la vie.
If nothing else, at least take a look at Angela Davis’s reflections on the supposed sanctioning of violence by blacks in the context of late 1960s America.
Overall, this documentary at the very least reveals Gene Marks’s recent comments about what “poor black kids” should do to extricate themselves from poverty to be the utter schlock that they are.
Go watch this documentary if you have time; it’s well worth it.