In 2011, Göran Hugo Olsson struck gold with The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975, a documentary about the Afro-american struggles in the late sixties and early seventies, based on archival footage found in the Swedish television archives. Now he has dug up more material, this time on Africa’s struggle for decolonisation, and used Frantz Fanon’s classic The Wretched of the Earth as the guiding text. Nine chapters go over different aspects of the battle. Some are fairly short and simple, such as an interview with a black man who’d been tortured by a colonial regime, or a depiction of the shocking depths of racism in some people from Rhodesia – one man says he thinks of going to South Africa, where whites stands a chance, since the scale is 4 blacks to 1 white, and he’s sure he could kill four Africans before they killed him. Other are more developed, such as a depiction of a strike at the LAMCO mine in Liberia, co-owned by Swedes, where the Swedish owners ask the government to send in the army, to avoid dealing with the workers demands, and then fires the ‘troublemakers’ and evicts them from their company housing. There are scenes from all over Africa, but the ones from the Portuguese colonies are the most shocking, showing more savage violence.
Frantz Fanon was quite radical, though as an introduction by Indian writer Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak explains, his book was misinterpreted in the foreword by Jean-Paul Sartre as advocating for violence, when Fanon thought the violent tendencies of the oppressed colonial subject was inevitable but tragic. R’n’B star Lauren Hill narrates the film, with a captivating voice, and words are at times interposed on screen. The imagery is obviously tough to take, with colonial soldiers shooting livestock and burning houses, and clips of mutilated victims of the struggle. As a European, the guilt can be hard to stomach as well, especially because the Swedish journalists by design focused quite a lot on the crimes of Swedish participants, who would normally be considered more benign than the actual colonial powers. But in an interview with two missionaries in Tanzania, it is clear how their benign naïvety contributed to the problem: They’ve banned the local traditional polygamy in their society, even though they can’t point to an argument against it in the bible, and they’ve focused on building a ‘very needed’ church in a city that lacks medical clinics and schools as well. The final chapter, called Raw Materials, turns into a Marxist critique of the world capitalist system that keeps Africa as an exporter of materials, to be used elsewhere. The film then jumps to 1987, to an interview with Thomas Sankara, President of Burkina Faso, who critiques the IMF and the policy of rich countries selling their surplus foodstuff in Africa, bankrupting local farmers. We are then informed he was assassinated later that year, during a coup supported by France and the US (and led by Blaise Compaoré, who coincidentally was removed from power just a few weeks back, on October 31st). While much of the problems of the film feels like it could be put in a faraway past, by an onlooker determined to do so, in this moment we are reminded that the problems remained for far longer, and continues to go on in new ways.
The film is a thorough examination of the crimes of the west. But it is quite impressive the work that was being done by Swedish journalists in those days, they weren’t pulling any punches. There is a short segment in The Black Power Mixtape where an American editor attacks the Swedish media as being ‘anti-American’. If those journalists had a reputation of standing up to power and examining the struggles of the dispossessed, then Göran Olsson does a fine job of continuing their work.