“What was it like coming back to America after fighting in Vietnam?” asks an off-screen narrator. A 22-year-old black man nods and begins to talk, his weary expression suggesting this is a question he’s prepared to answer, but one he dreads. “It’s almost the same as when I left, ” he begins. “I say this because when a man goes to fight for his country and then comes back over here and almost have to fight for his life in certain parts of the country, get ridiculed and discriminated, you know, and be less than a man. I don’t think it’s right, you know.” It’s 1967.
This early scene sets the stage for Göran Olsson’s terrific documentary, Black Power Mixtape 1967-195, which premieres on Independent Lens on 9 February. Specfically, it lays out the film’s premise, that the Black Power Movement, building and then suppressed from 1967 to 1975, emerged out of needs to resist injury and endure trauma, and also, to make visible what was going on in America, what remained unknown to people who didn’t have to know. The film features interviews with civil rights figures like SNCC’s Stokely Carmichael and Angela Davis, as well as today’s activists (Talib Kweli, ?uestlove), tracing how the Panthers resisted oppression (see especially, the FBI’s COINTELPRO) and also built a lasting sense community. Looking back, it looks forward, observing from the outside (the Swedish reporters’ footage that makes up the bulk of the film), it reveals what goes on inside.
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