If you followed the police killing of Michael Brown in 2014 in Ferguson, Mo., and the subsequent protests, police crackdowns, investigation and court hearings, little in Whose Streets? will be new to you. But that’s not really the point of this movie, which instead acts as a more of a document of that period of time and the political movements that were born out of it, with its true power being all the information it compiles into its 100-minute run time.
The film follows the story of Brown and, of course, what came after his death — the massive protests, the riots, the grand jury inquest of officer Darren Wilson. But what makes it special is that Whose Streets? really wants to know the people of Ferguson, the ones who live in those neighborhoods and were most affected by this tragedy — and who’ve decided to stand up for justice. I’ll be the first one to complain about the old documentary trope of the endless parade of talking heads, but here, it’s totally appropriate and wholly works. Because, unfortunately and tragically, they are saying things that still need to be said, especially in our current political climate.
What Whose Streets? does best is show the anger and confusion that were on display in Ferguson immediately after Brown’s death. After so much fretting in the media about rioting, the film captures the moments — via news reports and social media posts — of the entire saga, giving context to the actual human emotion involved, not to mention the reasons for so much unrest. Early on, when a convenience store burning down is met with more consternation by outsiders than the death of a human being, the purpose of the film is brought into focus, that humanity, dignity and justice are important above all else.
It’s this approach that thankfully keeps the film from falling into pessimism or cynicism. Much of the film is dedicated to showing the response by the Ferguson police to the protest and the ways in which they’re no longer a part of the community, not to mention the years this has been systemically falling apart on their end. It would be a simple act on the part of the movie to turn into little more than anger (though there is obviously anger there), but thankfully, Whose Streets? instead focuses on the ways this tragedy has organized the community and the people who’ve found purpose in action.
It turns an intrinsically sad moment in our country’s recent history into a message of hope, a surprising and impressive act. Rated R for language throughout. Opens Friday, Aug. 25, at Grail Moviehouse.