Documentary film “Whose Streets?” gives us a vivid, close look into the Ferguson uprising, and there are several raw, intense moments which will captivate you first and then linger on your mind for a long time. While it is definitely on the side of those protestors, it is undeniable that this thought-provoking documentary makes its sharp points on racism and other serious social issues in the American society, and it urgently reminds us that there should be real changes for many American people out there.
As many of you know, the uprising was sparked by the tragic death of an 18-year-old African American boy named Michael Brown Jr. On August 9th, 2014, Brown was shot by a 28-year-old white police officer named Darren Wilson shortly after the robbery in a convenient store happened in Brown’s neighborhood in Ferguson, Missouri, and the incompetently handling of this terrible incident by the Ferguson Police led to the shock and anger of many black resident in Brown’s neighborhood. For example, Brown’s body was left on the spot for several hours even after police officers arrived, and, as shown from several footage clips shot by smartphones, those police officers did not try much in calming the gathering crowd while only caring about covering up the shooting scene from the crowd.
This infuriating action of the Ferguson Police angered more black people in the city. That was soon followed by a big demonstration in which many black people willingly participated, and the Ferguson Police responded to this quite aggressively. Heavily armed police officers came along with armored cars and many other things they were willing to use against demonstrators who were not armed in contrast, and the violent chaos naturally ensued once they started to suppress demonstrators.
Those violent moments during the demonstration were presented through not only the footage clips shot by Directors Sabbah Folayan and Damon Davis and their cinematographer Lucas Alvarado Farrara but also the ones shot by the smartphones and video cameras of a number of people who were right in the middle of the demonstration, and the result is often quite captivating despite the understandably rough quality of those footage clips. The sense of urgency and tension is palpable on the screen as the situation becomes more volatile, and we can really sense how precarious the circumstance was for everyone in the demonstration during that time.
As the demonstration continued for several days, it accordingly drew more attention from the media, and then the Governor of Missouri declared the state of emergency. The National Guards was brought into the city shortly after that, and, as reflected by several TV news footage clips, the American media was mostly interested in the violent side of the demonstration. As one interviewee in the documentary cynically points out, the American media focused more on those burned properties than a real problem represented by Brown’s death, and the Ferguson Police flatly evaded its responsibilities in the meantime.
While the first wave of the demonstration was eventually ended on August 25th, the second wave followed only three months later. Another African American boy was fatally shot on October 8th, and that certainly reminded many black people in Ferguson again of their grave social injustice. When the grand jury decided not to indict Wilson on November 24, 2014, they became quite angry again, and that was followed by another tense moment between them and the Ferguson Police.
It must be mentioned that the documentary wholly sticks to the demonstrators’ viewpoint from the beginning to the end. It does not provide any viewpoint from the other side, so it can be said that the documentary is biased from the very start, but I guess that is the whole point of the documentary. It intends to present the demonstrators’ narrative opposing to the one which was constantly emphasized by the Ferguson Police and the American media, and it did a pretty good job of vividly conveying to us how indignant the demonstrators were – and why they were so angry like that.
Although it is a bit difficult to follow its free-flowing storytelling at first, the documentary gradually engages us via its emerging narrative structure, and some of the interviewees in the documentary become more prominent in front of our eyes. In case of David Whitt, he is a recruiter of civilian organization Cop Watch, and we get several intimate moments when the camera observes him spending some time with his children. Like many others, he wants a better word for his children, and we come to admire his passion and courage especially when he protests against the clearing of the memorial spot for Brown.
If I have to choose a standout among the bunch, that will be Brittany Farrell, a tireless activist who is also the mother of a young girl. While there is a sweet moment between her and her lesbian lover, there is also a fierce moment showing how she and others bravely protested in the middle of a highway, and she comes to us as a spirited woman who cannot be easily stopped. In fact, she later became a qualified nurse, and I sincerely hope that she will keep going on as usual.
Those social issues presented in “Whose Streets?” remain unresolved in the American society, and I am afraid the situation will get worse thanks to that racist scumbag currently residing in the White House, but the documentary tentatively suggests some hope in the end. Sure, there are still lots of difficulties on the road to more progress, but what was initiated in Ferguson has drawn the attention of many more people at least, and I really wish that things will get better in the end.