‘Whose Streets?’ brings a new depth to the story of Ferguson, Missouri

Whose Streets?

FilmScene — opening Friday, Sept. 22

Art House Theater Day

FilmScene — Sunday, Sept. 24

Activist Brittany Ferrell and crowd of protesters in ‘Whose Streets?,’ a Magnolia Pictures release. — photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

FilmScene and the Bijou Film Board will host a special screening of the new documentary Whose Streets? with a panel discussion at the 5 p.m. showing, as part of Art House Theater Day this Sunday, Sept. 24. The film is a chronicle of the 2014 uprising in Ferguson, Missouri in the wake of the police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown by Officer Darren Wilson on August 9, 2014. Whose Streets? opens Friday, Sept. 22 at FilmScene and runs through Thursday, Sept. 28. Tickets are $6.50-9.

Brown’s shooting sent shockwaves through the community of Ferguson. His death and efforts by law enforcement to keep the events leading up to the killing shrouded in secrecy (even going as far as to erect a curtain around his body, which lay in the street for hours) raised questions from community members, who then demanded answers. Recognizing Brown’s death as part of a pattern of police misconduct and racial profiling led to the Ferguson uprising, helping to launch the Black Lives Matter movement and transforming the initial shockwaves into an earthquake that would shake the nation.

Whose Streets? is an engrossing story of ordinary people pushed into extraordinary situations, motivated by a sense of justice and community. This documentary was not filmed in hindsight but as the events unfolded. The raw footage captured on the streets of Ferguson, along with candid interviews with participants in the rebellion, was not captured from a safe distance but on the ground by filmmakers Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis.

Through the filmmakers’ lens, viewers are able to witness images denied to them by the mass media. These images include peaceful protests and vigils disturbed by the presence of armored vehicles driven by police officers (armed with guns loaded with rubber bullets and live ammunition), community members being denied transparency by public servants and personal testimonies from those who were in the eye of the storm. Despite demonstrators and bystanders being brutalized by police (and later the Missouri National Guard under the orders of Governor Jay Nixon), residents in Ferguson inspired millions around the country to rally to their cause and join a fight which continues to this day.

The protagonists featured in the film made personal sacrifices in order for their voices to be heard. These include activist and mother Brittany Ferrell; hip-hop artist and co-founder of Hands Up United, Tef Poe; Organization for Black Struggle leader Kayla Reed; teacher Tory Russell, who launched a Books & Breakfast program; and Copwatch activist David Whitt (who was inside his apartment when he heard the fatal shots fired). It is their stories that provide necessary context to the chaotic images broadcast all over the world. They, along with countless others, refused to let this story be buried.

In one scene, Whitt tells the filmmakers, “Since the police are not being held accountable we have to hold them accountable.”

The film is peppered with news clips from corporate news outlets such as CNN and FOX News. The commentary from these outlets (often delivered in TV studios miles away from the action) demonstrates the mass media’s ignorance, placing priorities on broken windows over shattered lives — the loss of property over the loss of human life. Professional teleprompter-readers posing as news anchors recite the same script, focusing on “lootings” and “violent protesters,” while ignoring the true story at the heart of the protests.

As noted in a joint statement issued by Folayan and Davis:

Every day, Americans experience a mediascape that humanizes whiteness, delving into the emotional lives of privileged white protagonists while portraying people of color as two-dimensional and mostly negative stereotypes. Nowhere was this more apparent than in the case of Mike Brown who, despite being college-bound and well regarded by his community, was portrayed as a “thug” and a “criminal.”

As a result, Ferguson has experienced media colonization since August 9th; as all eyes turned to the protests, the Grand Jury, and the response to the non-indictment, people became desensitized to the scenes of chaos. The dehumanization of Mike Brown was perpetrated by his murderer, perpetuated by the media, and reinforced by violent police repression of his community. This was a modern day lynching.

FilmScene will be playing Whose Streets? for Iowa City audiences beginning on the Sept. 22. The documentary had its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival (in the U.S. Documentary Competition) and was also selected for the San Francisco International Film Festival. It was released in theaters across the country in August to coincide with the third anniversary of the shooting.

FilmScene Associate Director Andrew Sherburne told Little Village: “The film deals with the urgent issues of structural racism, biased policing and unreliable media narratives—these are issues that should be urgent to all Americans.”

Partnering with FilmScene is another non-profit group, the Bijou Film Board. Founded in 1972, the student-run organization is affiliated with the University of Iowa.

Bijou Film Board Executive Director Hannah Bonner told Little Village, “I think this is an extremely topical film especially where we’re seeing a swell in social activism, conversations around race, conversations around police brutality, etc. Bijou Film Forum allows a platform for viewing socially and politically conscious films and providing the space for a conversation after the screening. We need these conversations right now more than ever.”

Many of those who have seen the film have expressed their belief that Whose Streets? will become one of the most valuable historical documents covering the Black Lives Matter movement and related struggles years down the road.

Sherburne added, “It’s powerful, and I think everyone should see it regardless of their existing notions of the Black Lives Matter movement.”