“The Black Power Mix Tape 1967-1975,” playing at Space Gallery in Portland at 7:30 p.m. Friday, begins with this disclaimer: “This film consists of footage shot by Swedish reporters from 1967-1975. It does not presume to tell the whole story of the Black Power Movement, but to show how it was perceived by some Swedish filmmakers.”

That unique perspective on this endlessly fascinating (and endlessly documented) era in American history lends the film’s examination of the flowering and tumultuous growth of the Black Power movement an added level of interest for viewers who think they’ve seen and heard it all.

It is, of course, embarrassing (but hardly surprising) that foreign journalists were able to provide a more insightful picture of the civil rights movement than the contemporary U.S. media. “Outsiders,” while necessarily prone to ask naive questions, are also less likely to overlook facts and ideas based on cultural prejudices.

That outsider’s perspective is evident in the film, as the collected interviews give more attention to activists whose legacies, when compared with those of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, have faded somewhat.

More militant and forthrightly revolutionary leaders such as Stokely Carmichael, Angela Davis and Eldridge Cleaver, whose agendas went beyond the initial (and more palatable to middle America) demonstrations of King into more radical and threatening calls for economic and political revolution, are given time to express their ideas by crews from Socialist Sweden. And it’s interesting to see how the blacks being interviewed seem more willing to open up to white journalists from outside their own country.

For viewers skeptical of the entertainment value of message-driven documentaries, “The Black Power Mix Tape” provides a mixed bag. On the plus side, the film casts light on some oft-ignored events in the civil rights movement such as the Attica prison riot, Cleaver being given sanctuary (and a Black Panther embassy) by the newly independent Algeria, and the still-defiant Angela Davis’ trial (literally for her life) against California Gov. Ronald Reagan.

The titular “mix tape” idea is apt — the film traces the history of the Black Power movement through an overlapping sequence of interviews, voice-overs, filmed footage and judicious use of period and original music from Questlove — not a comprehensive history so much as an effectively impressionistic patchwork that gradually creates a compelling portrait.

On the minus side, the film loses focus as the years roll on, with more generic footage and a dearth of latter-day charismatic spokespeople perhaps explainable by the fact that, as the fight ground on, many of those leaders ended up dead or jailed — or, as the film contends, derailed by the scourge of drugs that essentially crippled a generation.

As to a final message, “The Black Power Mix Tape” seems to hold hope that, by keeping alive the lessons and teachers of the past on film, a new generation will be inspired to fight for justice.

Mentioning “the 1 percent” by name, activist Sonia Sanchez urges everyone to fight the good fight for social and economic justice, noting that “the reward is knowing that when you die, there’s a better world for your children. This is a lifetime job.”

Admission to Friday’s all-ages screening is $5 for Space members and students with ID, and $7 for non-members. Go to space538.org for more information.

Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer.


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