A deep, abiding love of early-1970s rhythm and blues led to the making of The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975, one of the most powerful, intriguing and unlikely documentaries of this year. Four years ago, Swedish filmmaker Göran Hugo Olsson was working on Am I Black Enough for You, a 2009 film about Billy Paul, the great Philadelphia-based soul singer, when he heard of some footage shot by several Swedish broadcast journalists on their visits to the United States in the late ’60s and ’70s.
“I thought it was a myth,” Olsson told The Root during a September interview in New York, where the film made its theatrical premiere. When he visited the basement of the Stockholm TV station that functioned as an informal archive, he was astonished. There were nearly 85 hours of footage from America shot during the peak of the black power movement. “Ten, maybe 15 hours of it was just golden,” he said, excitement rising in his voice.
Olsson’s exhilaration was not without cause. The archives included exclusive and intimate interviews with Angela Davis and Eldridge Cleaver, plus several wonderful, informal conversations with Stokely Carmichael. Olsson wanted to cull the material into a film, and to raise the money, he visited Louverture Films, the production company run by Joslyn Barnes and Danny Glover, who helped secure funding for the film.
“There’s truth, and then there’s how that truth is framed,” Glover told The Root. He said that he was particularly impressed by how Olsson’s work liberated the black power movement from its conventional presentation. “The mainstream media trivialized and criminalized the movement,” he said. “This film shows the black power movement as a natural evolution out of the civil rights movement.”