Marc Robinson: Priceless Footage, but Limited as a Teaching Tool: Black Power Mixtape (2011)

Priceless Footage, but Limited as a Teaching Tool: Black Power Mixtape (2011) – Film Review

Marc Arsell Robinson

Special to No Tsuris

Black Power Mixtape (2011) is a documentary about the Black Power Movement that uses footage taken by Swedish filmmakers between 1967 and 1975.  It is the latest in a string of documentaries about the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements released in the past few years.  These include Negroes with Guns: Rob Williams and Black Power (2005), Neshoba: The Price of Freedom (2008), Scarred Justice: The Orangeburg Massacre 1968 (2009), and Soundtrack for a Revolution (2010).  The archival footage in Mixtape contributes priceless visual imagery of 1960’s and 1970’s Black politics, but the film itself lacks a coherent or engaging narrative.

The film does provide exceptional moments, such as when Stokely Carmichael interviews his mother about their family’s struggles during Stokely’s childhood.  Best of all is an impromptu speech given by Angela Davis about White repressive violence and Black self-defense.  As David Leonard wrote in another review of the film, “Humanizing the movement and focusing on the interpersonal dynamics in a core theme of the film.”

However, as a historical text, I found the film disappointing.  Undoubtedly, the movie was limited by the footage available; and it even opens with the following statement, “This film…does not presume to tell the whole story of the Black Power Movement, but to show how it was perceived by some Swedish filmmakers.”  Thus, its creators deserve credit for recognizing Mixape’s shortcomings.  Yet, although the documentary’s weaknesses can be forgiven, they unfortunately limit the film’s use as a teaching tool.

At times Mixtape presents an inaccurate chronology, like when it introduces the Black Panthers in its 1969 section, even though the organization was formed in 1966.  In addition, the latter section of the film, on 1970-1975, becomes increasingly unfocused as the film shifts to concentrate on Black ghetto life and drug usage.  The narrative further breaks down when the War on Drugs is discussed, which did not begin in earnest until the 1980’s.  While the introduction and promotion of drugs like heroin, and later crack cocaine, certainly deserves a place in the story of Black Power, here it undermines the films coherence.

Moreover, the section on the 1970’s leaves out other notable developments such as the proliferation of Black cultural nationalism in the form of fashion, food, entertainment and culture.  Also left out is Black Power’s increasing presence in electoral politics such as the Black Panthers’ bid for offices in Oakland and the Black Political Conventions of the early 70’s.  Other topics that could have been address were the proliferation of Black Studies and Black Power’s impact in education, as well as the issues of masculinity and gender within the movement.  Unfortunately, Mixtape ends up perpetuating the erroneous notion that the Black Power Movement was effectively over by 1971, save the Angela Davis trial.

Therefore, Mixtape would not be best for 100 or 200 level students, or as an introductory source on the Black Power Movement.  Certain sections might be useful, but other films like Eyes on the Prize: Power!, Eyes on the Prize: A Nation of Law?, Negroes with Guns, and Scarred Justice are better suited for introductory purposes.  However, for advanced students and scholars of the period, the film provides invaluable imagery of the 1960’s and 70’s Black Freedom Struggle.

Marc A. Robinson is a PhD candidate in the American Studies Program and teaches in the Critical Culture, Gender and Race Studies Department at Washington State University.  His dissertation is on the Black Student Union and Black Power in the late 1960’s.  Follow him @MarcARobinson1.

Mark Anthony Neal @NewBlackMan: “I Arrived the Day Fred Hampton Died”: If Jay Z Met Fred Hampton


“I Arrived the Day Fred Hampton Died”: If Jay Z Met Fred Hampton

by Mark Anthony Neal | NewBlackMan

In the early morning of December 4, 1969, before dawn, the Chicago Police Department in conjunction with the Federal Bureau of Investigation—The FBI—riddled the residence of Black Panther Party leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, killing them both. Hampton, who was sleeping in the back of the house with his pregnant girlfriend was unable to defend himself (he had been drugged by an informant), leading poet and Third World Press founder Haki Madhubuti (then Don L. Lee) to describe the incident as a “One Sided Shootout.” On that same day, Shawn Corey Carter—the maverick hip-hop mogul and artist—was born in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, NY. I can’t help but wonder what might have happened if these two—icons for two distinct generation of Black youth—might have ever had the chance to meet.

For those familiar with the legacy of Fred Hampton, simply known as Chairman Fred for many, Jay Z might seem the very antithesis of what Hampton represented. At the time of his assassination, Hampton was being prepared for national leadership within The Black Panther Party, which was decimated by incarceration (Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale) and exile (Eldridge Cleaver). Hampton was 21-years-old, five years younger than Martin Luther King, Jr. was when he led the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the same age of Malcolm Little when he was when he began the prison sentence that transformed him into Malcolm X. Hampton was no ordinary young Black man.

Specifically the Black Panther Party was targeted by FBI director J. Edgar Hoover’s counter-intelligence program, known by the acronym COINTELPRO. The year before Hampton’s death, Hoover publically announced that the Black Panther Party was the “greatest threat to the internal security of the country.” Part of the FBI’s strategy was to kill off the local leadership of the Black Panther Party, before it could ascend to national leadership. In that vein Hoover targeted the Black Panther Party’s breakfast program, because it was one of the most tangible ways the organization impacted their communities.

According to historian Craig Ciccione, author of the forthcoming If I Die Before I Wake: The Assassination of Fred Hampton, “The threat was on the local level because on the local level the organizing was most effective.” Ciccone suggests that killing off local leadership could be achieved on a much quieter level—he notes that virtually none of the Panthers killed in the late 1960s were part of the national leadership.

Of those local leaders, Fred Hampton was perhaps the most significant—The FBI created a file on Hampton when he was just an 18-year-old high school student, who would shortly become leader of the Illinois Chapter of the Black Panther Party. Fred Hampton was a compelling figure because of his skills as an organizer—he was instrumental in the creation of the Rainbow Coalition (a term later appropriated by Jesse Jackson) which included the Black Panther Party, young White activist known as The Young Patriots and The Young Lords, a national organization of Puerto Rican activists co-founded by Felipe Luciano, who was also a member of the original Last Poets.

Combined with his accomplished skills as an orator and his willingness to organize beyond the Black community, Hampton was the prototype for the next generation of Black activist, a possibility that was literally killed in the early hours of December 4, 1969.

One of the tragedies of Fred Hampton’s death is that his presence would not be felt in the Marcy Houses that Jay Z came of age in, or in any of the like communities across this country were young Black Americans lacked examples of political agency and activism that were in sync with their lives at the dawn of 1980s. The period, best known as the Reagan era, was marked by the child murders in Atlanta, the explosion of crack cocaine in Black communities, the emergence of AIDS and the collapse of the kinds of social and cultural infrastructures that helped Black Americans survive segregation and racial violence throughout the 20th Century.

Hip-Hop initially filled that void and though early hip-hop was little more than the “party and bullshit” that seems so normative today, it ability to allow young Black Americans a voice and alternative ways to view the world may have been it most potent political achievement. For example, Chuck D would have been Chuck D regardless of Hip-Hop, but how many young Blacks became politically engaged because Chuck D had Hip-Hop. Indeed as Jay Z details throughout his memoir Decoded (written with Dream Hampton), the possibilities that Hip-hop offered were compelling enough to take him from the street life.

The easy part of this story is to suggest that Jay Z, as emblematic of a Black generational ethos, has squandered Hip-Hop’s political potential on the spoils of crass materialism, middle-management wealth and a politics of pragmatism (as embodied by his man Obama). The feel good move is to imagine a 61-year-old Hampton and a 41-year-old Carter sitting down in conversation with Sonia Sanchez to discuss the legacy of the Black Panther Party on Hip-Hop and Carter’s funding of the Fred Hampton and Shirley Chisholm Institute for Black Leadership Development (which by the way Mr. Carter, need not be a dream). Unfortunately the history of Black political engagement is not as simple as one of those Staples “easy” buttons.

Continue reading at NewBlackMan: “I Arrived the Day Fred Hampton Died”: If Jay Z Met Fred Hampton.