Powerful doc about Mark Brown's murder and Ferguson's response.
Directors: Sabaah Folayan, Damon Davis
Cast: Brittany Ferrell, Baseem Masri
Runtime: 1 hr 30 min
by John DeSando
“A riot is the language of the unheard.” chapter heading
Having never participated in a protest, much less a riot, I felt I had been done both after experiencing directors Sabaah Folay and Damon Davis’s Whose Streets? Their documentary about Ferguson, Missouri, and the death of Mike Brown in 2014 is an unremittingly real and passionate participant point of view that celebrates the will of an oppressed people to be heard.
Whose Streets? documents the thoughts and actions of the largely black population as they experience the white-cop brutality of Ferguson and St. Louis police forces, culminating in Mike Brown’s being shot 8 times by an officer who justifies the assassination with his fear. The grand jury believed he was faultless, leading to disbelief and riots reminiscent of the reaction to Rodney King’s killers’ exoneration.
The doc is especially effective bringing home the pain with portraits of such sufferers as Brittany Ferrell, a comely and articulate young lesbian who is not afraid to speak her outrage. We see her at home with her children and on the street with the microphone chanting the will to fight to be free, an anthem echoed by virtually everyone facing down the daunting police and national guard forces.
The street’s-eye view happens largely because cell phones recorded the abuse with a probing expertise heretofore only the province of professional filmmakers. But not today, when those little devices are adjuncts to the spirit of justice, albeit not always enough to bring convictions. David Whitt, a Copwatch citizen videographer, meticulously records and publishes images that damn the militaristic response, for the film’s expert doc makers put them together to devastatingly powerful effect.
Although white cop Darren Wilson, 28, had Brown in his sights after Brown allegedly robbed a convenience store, Brown should not have died for the crime nor should his body have lain in the street for hours while the community and security reacted. However, most of the forensic evidence and testimony proved that Wilson acted in self defense.
If there can be a criticism of this doc, it would be that the evidence finally exonerating Wilson is not presented; he remains guilty in the spirit of the film if not the reality. Although the filmmakers could claim an interest only in the people’s plight and reactions, full disclosure for me requires that I also see where the police can be at least partially exonerated.
Justice both civil and spiritual is elusive. Whose Streets? is an estimable rendition of a disadvantaged populace struggling to be heard.
John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.rr.com