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Not only is he a renowned thespian, he is also an international human rights advocate who never hesitates to go where he is needed most.
In 1969, when Angela Davis taught philosophy at UCLA, some of us were fortunate enough to have taken (or “audited,” as you could do back then) one of her classes and experienced her in that setting.
Others may remember Davis only in terms of her membership in the Communist Party, or for what was perceived as her “radical feminism.” Undoubtedly, none of us will never forget her involvement with the Black Panther Party (BPP) and the events that led to her being charged with, but not convicted of, the murder of a judge in Marin County in 1970.
So it might come as a surprise that, to a student walking with her across campus for “office hours” in the early ’70s, Davis could not only be a deep-thinking philosopher but also a humorous and witty assistant professor.
Or that she could be “a very warm person” decades later to a Swedish writer-director-filmmaker-interviewer.
Sixteen-millimeter film footage of an imprisoned Davis and other BPP notables, left undisturbed in the basement of Swedish Television for the past 30 years, found its way into the hands of Göran Hugo Olsson. “There was a rumor going around for years among filmmakers that Sweden had more archive materials on the Black Panthers than the entire USA. A couple of years ago, I was working on a film on Philly Soul and was browsing the archives at the Swedish Television and found out that it was true … ”
Astonishingly, the footage he’d come across chronicles a little known interesting back story of the black power movement. The stars of this documentary are not brothers and sisters down for the cause but youthful, idealistic, Swedish filmmakers who traversed the country in the late ’60s/early ’70s studying the movement, ultimately forming sufficient bonds with key movement figures to have captured some of the most riveting interviews with them ever seen.
Stokely Carmichael (SNCC leader; later “Honorary Prime Minister” of the BPP); Huey Newton (co-founder and leader of the BPP); Bobby Seale (co-founder of the BPP); Eldridge Cleaver (Minister of Information of the BPP); Kathleen Cleaver (Communications Secretary of the BPP); and Angela Davis, political activist, when she was in prison.
Olsson immediately realized he’d struck cinematic gold, saying “ … it was my duty to take this art and make it accessible to people.” So he collected his treasure trove and decided he’d take it to New York City to Louveture Films. The company happened to be the production company of Danny Glover and his producing partner, Joslyn Barnes.
Co-producer Joslyn Barnes writes, “ I will never forget the day this tall, lanky Swede … walked into my office … and announced he wanted to make a film about the Black Power Movement. Once I got over the initial surprise, and Goran started to roll the footage, I had a different kind of surprise. I rang up my producing partner Danny Glover immediately and said, ‘There’s something extraordinary you’ve got to see.’”
For Glover, the footage represented a walk down the memory lane of his own activism, and he and partner Barnes jumped at the chance to produce a film that would eventually win a documentary editing award at Sundance.
Anyone who thinks Danny Glover primarily stands for the “Lethal Weapon” series or “Places in the Heart,” “The Color Purple” or “A Rage In Harlem” doesn’t know him at all. He’s a long-time activist who became a significant part of Black history for his own contributions to the movement.
In the late ‘60s, Glover was a member of the Black Students Union at San Francisco State College (now University). The BSU, the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and the Third World Liberation Front for at least five months engaged in a strike at the college, demanding the establishment of an ethnic studies department. As the result of Glover’s and others’ efforts, the strike led to the creation of the first School (now College) of Ethnic Studies.
During a press conference, Glover is asked about those days:
Sentinel: You were active in the BSU at San Francisco State in the late ’60s to early ’70s. Were you ever active in the BPP?
DG: Interesting … The first time I was interviewed by those guys in Chicago, Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, they wrote “former member of the BPP.” And I said, ‘Let me say this: I respect what the BPP [did] and the position it took in the community.’ And I made it very clear that there are a lot of people who died. Some of those people I knew. Some of them died, some of them disappeared, some of them were dismembered and parts of their bodies were found in different places … So for me to walk around and say, now that I’m in a major movie [I’m a Panther], that’s not me … I don’t want to in any way diminish the truth of that situation . Now—because we were the BSU— and I would say, a diverse and pretty progressive BSU in San Francisco — automatically we’re going to have some sort of relationship, by the mere fact that it happens right on our doorstep—Oakland.”
[Even15 years ago, Glover’s activism, humanism and loyalty to the cause showed itself when he was involved in a fundraiser for Stokely Carmichael, who was stricken with prostate cancer then.]
At its heart, “Mixtape” is a story about empowerment. It’s a moving and inspirational vehicle that takes the audience on a journey through the specific time period of 1967 through 1975 and the pressing issues of that day — issues that may still be on the minds of formerly militant/currently nonmilitant people.
We finally see the intelligence, analysis, humanism, humor and genuine commitment of the interviewees to a movement with purpose and determination. We see the BPP leaders talking about their hopes and dreams for equal rights for all — and about their love for their mamas! The film also takes us on a cinematic exploration into the styles, culture and fashion of that day.
The interviewees, many of whom emerged as leaders in this time period — whether we agree in retrospect with what they might have said then or not — created an important and lasting legacy captured in “Mixtape.”
Above all is its exploration of the beginnings of a movement that ultimately can be thanked for provoking questions deep and enduring questions about race and racism, and equal rights, liberty and justice for all.
If you’re wondering, ‘Why the Swedes?’ “Mixtape” has the answer. No matter your age or your politics, do not miss it.
Musical enhancements come courtesy of Erykah Badu, Robin Kelley, Talib Kweli, Melvin Van Peebles, Sonia Sanchez and Ahmir ‘Questlove’ Thompson and Sonia Sanchez.
Opens Friday, September 23, at the Landmark Nuart Theatre, at 11272 Santa Monica Blvd., just east of Sawtelle Blvd.