Tag Archives: civil rights

The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975

I recently watched The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 (Dir. Goran Olsson) on Netflix. One fact about me: I adore documentaries. Learning new things is one of my great passions, and what better way to do it than to combine leaning with my love for film. Sadly, I’ve neglected my documentary viewing habit as of late. It just so happened that I got that craving whilst perusing my Netflix account, and I soon stumbled upon this gem. I for one know next to nothing about the Black Power Movement and The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 served as a fascinating and powerful introduction. It features interviews from some of the movement’s leaders and strongest advocates, such as Stokely Carmichael and Angela Davis, and offers an intimate perspective into those tumultuous years in America between 1967-1975.

The thing that I liked best about this film is that it feels like a time capsule, and this feeling is no accident. There is a wonderful story behind this documentary. The film is a mesh of old interviews and stories from a group of Swedish journalists who came to the States and were interested in racial conflict in America. Evidently, the director, Goran Olsson, found the footage down in the depths of Swedish Television’s cellar, where it had been left there for 30 years. Olsson decided to take the old interviews, and throw in some new music and commentary from intellectuals and musicians such as Questlove and Erykah Badu to help tie the film together.

This is certainly one of the most interesting and emotional documentaries I have seen in some time. The film of course does not claim to tell the whole story of the Black Power Movement, yet the interviews it contains successfully challenged my views of militant uprisings such as The Black Panthers. It’s beautifully simple in its construction and the film keeps a good flowing narrative of the Movement, seamlessly integrating the various interviews to tell a cohesive story. We see the early stirrings of the Black Power Movement, to the rise of the Black Panthers, moving through to the exile of the Panther party leaders and the numerous assassinations of powerful figures such as Martin Luther King Jr., JFK and Robert Kennedy, that shook the political landscape. In the film, a reporter comes across of group of young black adults, outside the funeral of Robert Kennedy,  who lament the deaths of these powerful individuals pushing for social change and equal rights. Their fear is that there is no future for them. And indeed, this film demonstrates that the future did look bleak.

The answers gained from the film’s subjects are eye opening, in part, because the questions from the Swedish reporters are so innocent and earnest. Rather than asking loaded questions, the reporters genuinely want to learn what is happening. Some of their inquiries are almost embarrassing. One particularly powerful scene demonstrating this occurs when a reporter asks an imprisoned Angela Davis about the Black Panthers activities and her thoughts on if violent confrontation is necessary for them to pursue their cause. Davis is visibly angered by the question, and speaks with a controlled fury about the daily threat of violence perpetrated by whites against black people and its long history. Davis states that asking if she approves of violence makes no sense, and declares that someone who would ask a question like that, clearly has no idea of the context from which the Black Power Movement arose.

I highly recommend this film for anyone, particularly those interested in the history of civil rights and racial conflict in the United States.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Help

The Help has certainly received a lot of Oscar buzz, more than I think it deserves honestly. While this film is entertaining, and does feature some strong performances, it left me with a bitter taste in my mouth. Although well meaning, The Help is of course tailored to a Hollywood, predominately white audience, and as such, ignores many key factors in racial oppression, and seems to act as an exoneration of viewers’ collective “white guilt”.

The story is framed against the growing civil rights movement of the 1960’s and focuses on both Aibileen (Viola Davis), a black maid, and Skeeter (Emma Stone), an aspiring writer who returns to her hometown of Jackson, Mississipi. Skeeter is aggravated by how her former friends treat their hired help and decides to write a book that would tell the maids’ perspective of the racism they experience on the job. Although she receives quite a lot of resistance to the idea initially, Aibileen agrees and allows Skeeter to interview her about her work and what it is like rising white children who inevitably grow into women who are just as bigoted as their mothers. As the film progresses we are witness to some of the indignities faced by the hired help at the hands of their employers. This film is quite lengthy, and attempts to cover an extended period of time, from Skeeter’s book’s conception to its publication. Although the story has its moments, the pacing is not always the best and skips over what I thought were important relationship developments.

The standout performance in The Help is from Viola Davis, who is powerful as Aibileen and equips the character with an emotional intensity that boils below the surface of her quiet and well mannered appearance. Octavia Spencer is also quite good as Minny, Aibileen’s bold friend and fellow maid. While both of these women have received Oscar nominations, it is unfortunate that the roles they are being honoured for are stereotypical Mammy characters. Although they bring life to these characters, the writing in The Help does little to add much depth to these roles outside of their usual cinematic portrayal. Speaking of Oscar nominations, Jessica Chastain also managed to get one for her role as Celia Foote, and while Chastain is absolutely adorable in this film, it is hardly a substantial role. It is interesting that with the volume of strong perfomances she has turned in this year (ie. The Tree of Life, Take Shelter), it is interesting that this one would be highlighted.

As I have mentioned above, although the film is entertaining and very audience friendly, it has some major flaws that I found troublesome. The film’s cast is nearly all female and I found the lack of a male presence to be curious. Racism is displayed as an expression of mean spirited attitudes and actions housewives enacted against their hired help, effectively ignoring the threat of rape and abuse male employers represented. I believe that it is telling that we see Minnie suffering domestic abuse at the hands of her black male partner, while the maids generally are shown to have little to no contact with white male homeowners. Furthermore, The Help, like oh so many Hollywood features about race relations, gives its white protagonist nearly all the power and portrays her as a saviour.  Audiences are convinced that without Skeeter’s actions, the maids situation never would have improved. The film strips away any notion that these characters had the ability and strength to emancipate themselves using their own resources.

The Help makes for some enjoyable light entertainment, but it should be viewed with a grain of salt.

3 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized