October 20, 2018

‘Whose Streets?’ producer explores racial injustice through film

When police officer Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown in 2014, East St. Louis native Damon Davis said he could not simply watch the aftermath unfold. He said he had to be involved and give the story a local perspective.

“It wasn’t until after [protests began] I realized ‘hey, somebody better write this down,’” Davis said. “‘We’ve got to do something right now because [the white media] is going to make their own movie about it, and we’re going to look like we’re insurgents.’”

In the year following Brown’s death, he filmed several Black Lives Matter (BLM) activists as they navigated protests, family life and-in some cases- arrest. He said he wanted his movie to give black people a way to see themselves in a realistic way, unlike how he believed mainstream media would portray them.
Damon Davis responds to the group of students. Photo by Christine Tannous

Filmmaker Damon Davis responds to the group of students.
Photo by Christine Tannous

“My main goal was to create something really, really intimate for black people and people from the black experience,” Davis said. “I wanted to almost make a mirror, so they could see themselves and situations to know that ‘No, you’re not crazy. You have a right to be mad. This is wrong.’”

Larry Morris is the Coordinator for the Multicultural Center and International Student Affairs (MCISA) at Webster and has known Davis since 2010. Morris said he knew before the university even hired him he wanted to bring Davis and “Whose Streets?” to campus.

“I knew being in a position at the Multicultural Center where we emphasize culture, even if that means world culture or local culture, I wanted somebody like [Davis] to give a fresh view and insight in what’s going on here in St. Louis because these conversations need to keep happening,” Morris said.

MCISA showed the film on Feb. 12. After the screening, Davis sat with students to discuss their perceptions regarding Brown’s shooting, the film and their own activism.

Davis said young people like Webster students were the next generation of activists. He said he was simply one in a long chain of black people standing up for themselves and their community’s rights.

“Somebody’s got to do it,” Davis said. “It don’t start with me. It don’t end with me either. I was raised to know this was a continuation of blacks folks fighting constantly. This is just my turn, and there’s going to be somebody after me and somebody after them.”

Morris thought the students needed to hear Davis’ perspective not only to learn, but also to better their understanding of what makes movements flourish or fail.

“I feel it is our responsibility to show the people that are behind us where we thrived, where the mistakes were made, and just let them know they are apart of something that’s great,” Morris said.

Webster student Robert Richardson attended the film screening and said he thought the film was important because it showed how people who were actually from the city behaved. He said he hardly saw average people on the news.

Robert Richardson addresses the group after the film showing. Photo by Christine Tannous

Robert Richardson addresses the group after the film showing.
Photo by Christine Tannous

Richardson thought activism came in many forms and said people needed to defend the rights of all minority groups, no matter how big the challenge seemed.

“Activism means you come across someone who is ignorant, and you have a legitimate conversation where you’re able to change their thinking,” Richardson said. “That’s activism. To you, maybe that’s small, but now that person can go say ‘hey things need to change’ to the larger masses. That’s how movements are started, with one person getting with another person.”

Morris said change would not happen as quickly as activists desired, but he felt it was important for young people to stay patient and involved in the movement.

For others to understand what people of color were trying to do in the film and in more recent protests, Morris said they needed to listen to what black people were trying to say, not try to make excuses.

“I don’t think most of us are under the impression that we’re going to wake up in this eutopia tomorrow and everybody is going to be Kumbaya, holding hands and everything, but stop acting like we’re not real,” Morris said. “Stop acting like our feelings are not real, our bodies are not real. When we see that, I feel like we’ll be moving in the right direction.”

Davis said he would not continue filming BLM activities, but he hoped people would stay active in making a world without racial violence and injustice.

“It’s all or nothing,” Davis said. “It’s not going to happen today. It’s not going to happen in my lifetime. We just have to be working towards it.

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