Most of us remember scrolling through news about the Ferguson protests on Twitter in 2014, but Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis’ directorial debut Whose Streets? fills in the blanks of the story, offering a humanizing, much-needed portrait of those involved. Dedicated to Michael Brown, the film captures the aftermath of the shooting of the unarmed 18-year-old—by a white police officer, while the Black young man had his hands in the air—using unflinching interviews with the still-grieving Ferguson residents who’ve seen their community unify against police brutality.
Throughout Whose Streets?, citizen journalists and activists armed with cameras offer stunningly raw snapshots of human emotion, like when Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden, waits with community members to hear that a grand jury decided not to indict Brown’s killer. Or when Brown’s memorial site was set on fire. Or when plain-to-see conflict plays out on the face of a Black female police officer as she’s involved in an intense standoff with protesters. Or when resistance leaders speak to crowds, making my arms break out in goose bumps and my eyes well-up with pride.
This spectacular selection of on-the-ground footage captures a community that continues to speak out against a problematic, mostly white police force, using social media and technology to educate. In addition to capturing the big story of Ferguson—that, following a protest of police brutality, Ferguson’s militarized police force went to war with a grieving community, setting off explosives and using “deescalating” tactics against people on their own property—Whose Streets? doesn’t shy away from criticizing President Obama, or calling out the mainstream media for calling property damage “violence” and portraying Black protesters as rioters and party animals. There’s an emphasis on impassioned leaders like Copwatch videographer David Whitt, as well as Brittany Ferrell and Alexis Templeton, who found love through activist work.
Though the wounds of police brutality are fresh and ongoing, it’s not too soon to address them on film. And considering that last week the “Unite the Right” hate rally of white supremacists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville got an eerily different treatment, Whose Streets? feels like an awakening, and even more vital to the resistance.