Movie Review: “Whose Streets?” captures Black Lives Matter as it happens

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The shooting of Michael Brown isn’t re-investigated and the trial of the police officer who shot the unarmed black teen eight times isn’t parsed in the new documentary “Whose Streets?”

Media coverage — some of it bordering on hysterical — is merely sampled, not probed in depth.

This compelling film is a streets-eye-view of the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, which began with Brown’s body still lying in the background, in broad daylight, for hours as his community rose up to call attention to the shooting and the police culture that led to it.

Filmmakers Sabaah Folayan and Damon Harris interview many of those doing the protesting, but wisely rely most heavily on the citizen journalism of scores of folks from that corner of Ferguson (Canfield Green apartments).

Protesters, like the gay couple Brittany Ferrell and Alexis Templeton, protesters turned organizers Kayla Reed and Tef Poe, shout themselves hoarse.

“No peace? No JUSTICE!”

streets2Ordinary citizens captured the tears of Brown’s mother, weeping and enraged as the police wait and wait and wait to remove the body. These uncensored cell camera videos document the growing frustration, the profane shouts and rising emotions of that summer and then fall and winter of 2014, when people took to the streets for peaceful marches and were met by massive, confrontational police presence, which hemmed in their marches.

Local Copwatch citizen videographer Dave Whitt tapes every police action — marchers peacefully walking, holding signs, while legions of cops cover them with the dots of red laser sights  from their rifles, dots dancing across heads and bodies of people as they pass.

Didn’t see that on TV, did you?

The riots and looting, seen from inside that insular world, and not from the selective “fire makes a pretty scary picture” editing of TV news, comes off quite differently in “Whose Streets?”

“A riot is the language of the unheard” is one of the film’s chapter headings.

The film captures a protest that grew into a movement, drawing supporters from all over the country as the marches, occupations (stopping traffic, pouring into a Walmart, speaking truth to unsympathetic white people’s faces) that demand attention as the local PD  and Missouri justice system attempt to whitewash the shooting and quash dissent.

This film won’t be aired on Fox News, but when you’re protesting on the streets and in public hearings and police are, to a one, wearing black wristbands with “Stand with Darren Wilson” (the police officer whose street encounter with Brown led him to pump eight bullets into him), ask yourself who the antagonists here really were?

Yes, the U.S. Justice Department got involved, and pressure was applied. This scruffy, street-wise and blunt documentary effortlessly shows — with just images and captured police behavior — that was wholly justified. No George Stephanopoulos interiew with the policeman and his “Who, ME racist?” declarations, no talking heads on chat shows are here to spin it.

Here was a police force and City Hall preying on a big chunk of its community, and the bubbling outrage of decades of that is what “Whose Streets?” cell phone camera participants grab, at the moment it explodes.

The scruffiness is intentional and the film has that conventional search for heroes and heroines — who to follow, single-out and build the movie around. But “Whose Streets?” also lets us see how citizens journey from outrage to action, from passivity to protest to influencing public policy, just by standing up and saying “Enough!”

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MPAA Rating: R (violence, profanity)

Cast: Brittany Ferrell , Tef Poe, Tory Russell, Alexis Templeton, Kayla Reed, Dave Whitt

Credits:Directed by Sabaah Folayan and Damon Harris . A Magnolia release.

Running time: 1:30

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