Class Six: The Black Power Mixtape 1967-75 (Göran Hugo Olsson, 2011, Sweden/US)

More by Olsson

If you are a fan of 70s soul music, Olsson’s feature-length documentary on Billy Paul, Am I Black Enough For You? (2009, Sweden/US), will be of interest. I think that it is still available via iTunes. But it is Olsson’s follow-up to BPM67-75, Concerning Violence: Nine Scenes from the Anti-Imperialistic Self-Defense (2014, Sweden/US/Denmark/Finland) that is probably of more interest, both for the way that it extends the methodology of his earlier film, but also for the way that it engages politically with decolonizing movements, which, as we watch more and more essay films, seem to be a privileged topic for the genre.

BPM67-75 did air on PBS and they’ve assembled an interesting site, with some bonus features and elements.

And don’t forget, if you are interested in writing a paper on BPM67-75, to ILL order the book.

Related to Olsson

As I mentioned in class, the great Agnès Varda made a documentary on the Black Panthers when she was in California in the late 1960s. It would prove an interesting comparison with Olsson’s Swedish footage.

A more conventional, but still very good documentary on the Black Panthers is Stanley Nelson’s Vanguard of the Revolution (2015, US) and Shola Lynch’s Free Angela and All Political Prisoners (2013, US) provides an excellent overview of Davis’s life and ongoing influence.

There is a way in which BPM67-75 is an essay on the American prison industrial complex. You can, and should, track down Angela Davis’s writing on prisons, but also put on your “I’ll should watch if it ever becomes available” list, Brett Story’s The Prison in Twelve Landscapes (Canada, 2015), which is an essay film/documentary about the carceral system in America. You can get some sense of Story’s film in this interview with her at the Independent Lens site.

Additional Links and Connections

A general search should yield a range of scholarly assessments and accounts of the Black Power movement and the tumultuous years between 1967-75. This book, put out by the New Press but produced by Harlem’s Schomburg Centre, provides an interesting overview of the period.

Those of you who were in my Pop Music/Critical Theory class will know that I’m interested in the ways that self-fashioning and self-presentation assume a critical/political edge, especially for those traditional excluded from political power. And this is something that the Panthers recognized as did Angela Davis. If you want to read more on the intersection of image and politics (both in the period and retrospectively in terms of cultural memory), there are a few great books that might serve as a start. First is Tanisha Ford’s Liberated Threads: Black Women, Style, and the Global Politics of Soul (2015), which has a chapter directly on Black Power style. Second, and even though it only occasionally reaches back to the Black Power-era, I’d recommend Mark Anthony Neal’s Looking for Leroy: Illegible Black Masculinities (2013). So much of the stuff that he says about post-Civil Rights masculinity is wrapped up in the longer history of black style. Of course, Angela Davis herself is understandably ambivalent about being a fashion icon. Her “Afro Images: Politics, Fashion, and Nostalgia” is crucial reading, not least for the way that she refuses to be reduced to an image.

I couldn’t wrap all this up without mentioning Kobena Mercer’s “Black Hair/Style Politics,” which is a key article in the history of cultural studies, especially within the history of Black British cultural studies. It is hard to overstate the importance in Mercer’s article in being an intervention by a black scholar in a field, cultural studies, that already imagined itself to be radical. Mercer throws down the gauntlet and insists that it take the politics of race, style, fashion, image, and performance seriously.

This entry was posted in Essay Film Spring 2017. Bookmark the permalink. Comments are closed, but you can leave a trackback: Trackback URL.