Although Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis rarely stray beyond the borders of Ferguson, Mo., in “Whose Streets?” their frontlines documentary about a torn community pushing for change in the wake of the 2014 shooting death of black teenager Michael Brown, viewers’ thoughts probably will be roaming far and wide, and across time.
Like to Michigan in 1967, where Kathryn Bigelow’s current “Detroit” portrays race riots during the Civil Rights decade. Or to Washington and presidents 44 and 45, and the societies they reflect. Or Nevada and O.J. Simpson’s impeding parole. Even San Francisco and such relatively mundane matters as Colin Kaepernick’s employability. In short, “Whose Streets?” does not shy away from our wide racial divide and is a loud plea for an America that embraces all its citizens, even if it seems we are further from that goal than ever before.
The film is an angry one, beginning with a Martin Luther King quote, “A riot is the language of the unheard.” With scene after scene of rioting and protests, there is almost constant shouting as Ferguson expresses its anger before mobilizing for change as the Ferguson Police Department and its tactics come under national scrutiny.
Strangely, Folayan and Davis are almost detail free about the shooting death of Brown and the clearing of the shooter, his killer, police officer Darren Wilson. Instead, they focus on the levers of power that are manipulated to keep black communities in check.
In its few quiet moments, the filmmakers do a nice job of portraying the thoughtful activists that are prime movers of the community’s resistance, even if we don’t know much beyond their first names.
“A building is more important than a black person because a building serves white people,” says one activist, trying to explain the rationale behind certain types of property damage. “It’s a revolutionary act — it’s strategic.”
You might not agree with that, but understanding where they’re coming from is part of the film’s goal.
Ultimately, “Whose Streets?” is timely not only because of its social message, but also because it fully embraces the cell phone footage and tweets that have been crucial tools in the Black Lives Matter and other movements.
The weapon of choice turns out to be a camera.
“Since the police aren’t being held accountable, we have to hold them accountable,” says David, a videographer.
The revolution will indeed be televised — as well as shared and tweeted.
Directed by Sabaah Folayan, Damon Davis.
Rated R for language throughout. Check listings for theaters. 1 hour, 30 minutes.
Bottom line: Timely documentary with a social message
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