‘Whose Streets?” is not only the name of a documentary about social unrest in Ferguson, Mo., two years ago this month but a question that many people at the time found themselves asking.
The fatal police shooting of African-American teen Michael Brown attracted international attention not only because he was unarmed, but because of the police reaction to protests over his death.
The whole world was watching as the St. Louis suburb appeared to be under siege by an occupying force — complete with tanks, tear gas and rubber bullets. It was hard to imagine a similar scenario being played out in a community that wasn’t predominantly black.
The documentary gets into the thick of the street protests, chronicling the efforts of protesters and onlookers to get out of the way of the chaos. Also captured by the camera are attempts to put things in perspective, as local figures including hip-hop artist Tef Poe and activist Brittany Ferrell offer their observations.
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“Whose Streets?” suggests that mainstream news coverage was slanted toward violence, looting and property damage — while ignoring the social injustices that ultimately resulted in conflict with police clad in riot gear and government officials whose grasp of the situation seemed tenuous at best.
But director Sabaah Folayan and co-director and St. Louis-based artist Damon Davis persuasively connect with the realities on the ground, delivering a portrait of a suburb in which residents have long felt disenfranchised and are taking the steps necessary to bring about change. This is a case of activism both behind and in front of the camera.
The film does a particularly good job of pointing out that many of the folks on the street were there to raise their voices in nonviolent protest — but were apparently overlooked by media outlets focused on pandemonium.
You may not agree with the politics of “Whose Streets?” But its power and passion are undeniable.
(At the Tivoli.)
Rated R for language throughout.