It’s been three years since Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was shot and killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, St. Louis. A shooting, which prompted protests, weeks of demonstrations and confrontations between protesters and law enforcement officers, it pitted a predominantly black community against a nearly all-white police force. Filmmakers Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis have spent two years collecting footage from the protests for a documentary focused on the Ferguson uprising. The film shows how a community galvanized to fight injustice. Samantha Ofole-Prince caught up with the duo to talk “Whose Streets?
Sabaah, the title Whose Streets? is a powerful one. What are the connotations behind it and was it the title from the onset?
It was always called Whose Streets? It begs the question; who has the right to public property; who has the right to the benefits of our government administration; who is this country made for and where we stand.
Racial inequality have long plagued the city, Damon, you are from St. Louis, three years on has anything changed?
Not so much has changed. The citizens have been radicalized on a level I have never seen in my life. People are tired of waiting on this system that was not built to receive them as human beings and are doing a lot of grass-roots localized organizations. You also have very young people who have taken office, but the mayor is still the mayor of Ferguson.
It’s certainly a brilliantly documented piece showing a generation fighting, not for their civil rights, but for the right to live. Damon, if you had to do it all over again what would you do differently?
We did the best with the tools that we had. There are a lot things I wish I could have been there to catch on camera, but there was only four of us out there. We did what we could do with the tools we had and I am proud of what we have.
Sabaah, you are both new filmmakers, and as co-directors, what was your working relationship like and how did you distribute the duties in creating the film?
It was a case who was available and who had certain skills. My background in pre-med and social work really helped me when it came to interviewing and just getting people to open up and I was able to interact with people and listen and allow them to share their stories.
Damon, going into this project to document the civil unrest in Ferguson, what were your expectations and what surprised you?
We are intimately aware of how we are portrayed in the media and how this portrayal encourages both conscious and unconscious racial bias and we wanted to give black people some hope and pride. My expectation was to set the record straight for the black community in St. Louis and make sure the black community as a whole can be proud when they look and see themselves. We are uniquely suited to make this film because we ourselves are organizers, activists and deeply connected to the events of August 9th.
How receptive has the documentary been and what has been the reaction from the community so far?
Damon: Very positive so far. The internet is the breeding ground for hatred so we have had some negativity, but we have been getting a lot of love and the people I know from the community are proud of it.
Did either of you receive any threats while making the film, and were there any concerns for your safety?
Damon: We got threats directly and indirectly long before we decided to make the movie just by being out there and being active. I’ve had weird personal messages and direct threats. Some from the powers that be that are not so direct that sound friendly, but it’s been countless. Somebody had to do it and I am glad it was us.
Sabaah: There were a lot of instances where our calls would get disconnected strangely and we would feel like somebody was following us. Just that kind of sense that we were being watched was very prevalent during our production.
This certainly opens doors to tackling stories of injustice. Are there other stories of injustice or civil unrest you are interested in?
Damon: I am personally working on a documentary about a friend of mine who has been on Death Row for 25 years for something he didn’t do, but after that I want to move out of documentaries. The only way some people want to view black people is through their pain, so I really want to get into narrative. I want to tell Sci-Fi fantasies with black characters in control of their own destinies.
“Whose Streets?” releases in US theaters August 11
by Samantha Ofole-Prince/Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures