As the idiot known as the president continues to defend the tiki-torched, “alt-right,” neo-Nazi, white supremacist orgy that went down in Charlottesville, Va., resulting in one person’s death and several injuries, social media’s blood pressure has gone way up, with millions posting outrage.
Outrage doesn’t always translate into a movement, but it can, and that’s some of the insight and context the documentary Whose Streets? provides that is applicable to these continually troubled times.
Centered on the Ferguson, Mo., uprising that erupted in the wake of Michael Brown’s killing by Police Officer Darren Wilson in 2014, Whose Streets?, by directors Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis, goes beyond the sensationalism or spectacle favored by mainstream media to help diagram what sustained activism looks like after a movement is spawned.
First and foremost, it’s not one person or group, despite what the mainstream media might depict. While Black Lives Matter is indeed powerful and highly influential, it takes a lot more than one group or one way to fight structural racism too. “We took special care to show that it takes a village,” says Davis, who grew up near Ferguson. “It takes a village of people to come together and get this going.”
That village includes Brittany Ferrell, an area native and mother, who also identifies as queer, who co-founded Millennial Activists United and is known for the St. Louis highway protest, and her partner, Alexis Templeton; David Whitt, a father and member of Copwatch, who uses his camera to document police impropriety; rapper-activist Tef Poe and Tory Russell, co-founders of HandsUpUnited; and Kayla Reed, a onetime pharmacy tech-turned-activist who also identifies as queer.
It’s also intergenerational. “There were a lot elders in Ferguson who were supportive and who were helpful and who encouraged young people and taught them and allowed them to take front and center,” Folayan notes.
“The point was to show that it takes an ecosystem of people to make something like this move, and it is not one model,” says Davis. “It is not one type of black person. It’s a bunch of black people who came out from different walks of life: different genders, different sexualities, different age groups, that fought together at one time and one place.”
And they are still fighting. Whose Streets? doesn’t just discuss what has happened but makes it plain that activism doesn’t stop just because all the other cameras do. And it doesn’t romanticize activism, either, showing consequences, such as police retaliation, the threat of a criminal record, and apartment leases not being renewed despite consistent payment and occupancy.
“We didn’t want to paint a super-rosy picture of the situation,” explains Folayan, a Los Angeles native who was a premed student at Columbia University in New York City when she joined the fight in Ferguson. “We wanted to present a really realistic depiction of what it’s like to go and to protest and be part of a movement like that, and a lot of that is consequences. We were just hoping that people would see it’s not easy and there are consequences but it’s important and it’s worth it to put those things on the line.”
It’s those consequences that often go missing in both mainstream media coverage and well-meaning television shows. Even when Scandal, Shots Fired and Being Mary Jane allude to Ferguson-esque activity, it is often in the most sensational and galvanizing moments, not after the storm. There are often no “they are still fighting” or “they lost a job or house” moments as retaliation. A lot of the spotlight is caught up in the action only, not the hard work behind it necessary to orchestrating and delivering change that Selma attempted to show.
But Whose Streets? also distinguishes itself in that it acknowledges the power of social media, treating it as a character, almost, by using influential tweets as it takes us back.
“We were trying to create the film in such a way where the structure of it almost replicated the structure of what was going on. And so those tweets are really critical because it was people responding in real time that I think gave other people the sense that they can participate and know that they can do something about it,” explains Folayan.
“You’re seeing these tweets pop up and you feel like you’re there even if you’re not,” continues Folayan. “I think that was a big part of galvanizing people, and I think it was important for us to include it because one of the things that separates our generation from previous generations is that we have this technology, and how we use it can determine a lot of our success.”
With temperatures boiling and social media exploding, Whose Streets? should serve as a manual of sorts, guiding us on how to direct that energy while also schooling us on what we are truly getting ourselves into and how down we really need to be.
To find out where Whose Streets? is playing in your area, click here.
Also check out our Facebook Live interview with director Sabaah Folayan: