Whose Streets? (2017)
Directors: Sabaah Folyan and Damon Davis
Streaming on Hulu
I’ve spent a lot of time this week talking with my seven-year-old son about the protests that are happening across the country. We’ve discussed racism before, and he has studied the Black Lives Matter movement in school, so he has some context, but it’s still hard to talk with a child about police violence against Black people. Last night we watched the KidLit Rally For Black Lives sponsored by The Brown Bookshelf, where prominent children’s authors talked directly to kids about what’s going on. The authors read poetry, sang, and taught kids about the history of racism. My son was riveted; these authors know their audience and can break things down in a way that kids will understand–and also feel loved and protected. We watched it live, but they said they will be posting a video at some point. It was the most powerful thing I’ve seen all week.
In general, I’m not taking in a lot of popular culture these days. To unwind I’ve been watching Seth Meyers and reality shows like Top Chef and Making The Cut. But I’ve been thinking a lot about the documentary Whose Streets? which I saw in the theaters in the summer of 2017. It was one of the first movies I watched when I was thinking about starting this blog, because it’s written and directed by a woman, Sabaah Folyan. It documents the protests in Ferguson, Missouri that occurred in the wake of the 2014 fatal police shooting of Michael Brown, a young Black man. Working with co-director Damon Davis, a resident of Ferguson, Folyan follows the lives of the citizen-activists who keep the protests going for months after the shooting. It was eye-opening for me, because I had never really thought about that effort that goes into keeping a protest movement alive.
I believe the documentary got some flack for its subjective point of view; there are no interviews with police officers or local government officials, and no talking heads to put events onto a historical timeline or explain how the events were being reported and/or interpreted by the media. Instead you’re on the ground with the protesters and organizers, seeing what they see, hearing what they hear, reading the tweets they read. You also get a glimpse into the personal lives of a couple of the organizers. You see how they balance day jobs, childcare, higher education, familial duties, and romance. For me, the subjectivity was what has made the movie stick, because it gave me an understanding of the day-to-day work that goes into social change.
The activist-centered footage was also a jarring contrast to what was being shown on national television. There was one moment that I still remember from the documentary when the filmmakers play a short clip of two white news anchors discussing the protests in a very breezy, casual manner. To see them joking around and smiling after witnessing police in military gear disrupting peaceful demonstrations was sickening. And yet, I didn’t personally follow the protests very closely as they were happening. It took me a while to grasp the significance of Ferguson, but now it seems clear that the activism that occurred there helped to lay the groundwork for what is happening today.