Movie Review - Whose Streets?

On August 9, 2014, in Ferguson, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis, Michael Brown, Jr., a 18-year-old, black male was fatally shot by Darren Wilson, a 28-year-old white police officer. The way that this shooting was handled sparked massive protests from mainly those in the black community. Those protests led to riots and looting. The police and state-sponsored response caused even more outrage nationwide. These incidents were to many the genesis or the flash-point for the Black Lives Matter Movement or BLM.

Directed by Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis, the documentary collects audio from 911 calls, archival footage from news outlets, photos, texts and videos from cell phones posted on social media, as well as interviews that Folayan and Davis did themselves of the people who live in that area. It gives their perspectives. It shows their anger and their need for activism. The movie also provides an adequate outline of the aftermath. It's an outline that is one-sided and doesn't dig too hard into the issues. Therefore, it isn't all that illuminating to anyone regardless if they've followed the news on this situation or not. It's certainly not comprehensive or fully contextual.

HBO's Last Week Tonight with John Oliver since 2014 has done a great job of being comprehensive and contextual about the issues in Ferguson and beyond. John Oliver's show has specifically done three episodes over the past few years, including Police Militarization, Police Accountability and Municipal Violations, that provide more information and more insight into all the issues concerning Black Lives Matter than this whole thing. The only aspects this movie provides that Oliver can't are cameras inside the homes of the residents and intimate access to the people on the streets.

In that regard, it's fine. Folayan and Davis clearly ask some questions of their subjects, but their position appears to be more fly-on-the-wall rather than a true investigation or examination of the issues. The depth one would expect from a documentary is not felt here. Despite spending a long time on the ground and seemingly embedded with the black community, the film still feels cursory. For example, we see a protest where people block traffic on what looks like a highway. We never see a scene where the protesters plan this event or what they hope to gain by it. It just happens in this movie with no context.

At the beginning of the movie, we see the "Hands Up, Don't Shoot" protests. Later, the movie hints at the report from the Department of Justice, a report that debunks the veracity of the "Hands Up, Don't Shoot" origins. That's a fact not mentioned here in this movie as are a lot of things in that report. The report confirms the racial bias in the city, but it's important to be completely honest.

It's also important to examine the effectiveness of the protests. It's not directly said but the implication is that the BLM activism led to the DOJ report, which might be true or not. The Ferguson Police did get body cameras and some officials and officers were fired, but there's no clue on what effect these protests had on the ground and in the community. Protesters seem resolved to keep up the activism but has that actually changed things on the streets?

Rated R for language throughout.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 30 mins.

Available on DVD and VOD.


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