‘Whose Streets?’ pushes back on what we think we know about Michael Brown and Ferguson, Missouri New documentary is a potent combination of social and media criticism

Deep into Whose Streets?, the new documentary about Ferguson, Missouri, after the death of Michael Brown, there’s footage of Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot and killed Brown, giving an interview to ABC’s George Stephanopoulos.

“You can’t perform the duties of a police officer and have racism in you,” Wilson tells him. At the screening I attended, there was an audible mix of gasps and laughter from the audience.

Directors Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis spent much of the film’s run time up to that point establishing just how much racism lurked within the Ferguson Police Department and the city government. A 2015 report from the Justice Department established that Ferguson provided about as clear an illustration of institutionalized racism as could possibly exist: The city not only targeted black residents for tickets and arrests they couldn’t afford, it was also using the revenue from such stops to fund the nearly all-white police force. The court clerk, police captain and police sergeant were all implicated in sending and receiving racist emails, including one that compared President Barack Obama to a monkey.

Protester Brittany Ferrell hoists a bullhorn as her daughter hugs her in a scene from ‘Whose Streets?’

Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

And yet here was Wilson telling a national television audience that racism was anathema to policing.

Whose Streets? arrives in theaters Aug. 11, marking the third anniversary of Brown’s death (Aug. 9, 2014) and the uprisings that followed it. It’s a deeply moving work, and the passion of both the filmmakers and their subjects is palpable. “FYI I was literally homeless throughout the first year of production. Worked as a canvasser and put money back into the film,” Folayan, an activist, theater geek and former advocate for prisoners at Rikers Island, tweeted recently. Davis is an interdisciplinary artist whose work is currently featured in the permanent collection at the Blacksonian (aka, the National Museum of African American History and Culture).

The focus of Whose Streets? is the residents of Ferguson and St. Louis who keep marching and screaming for justice till they’re hoarse, who keep agitating long after the national media has turned its attention elsewhere. It establishes the movement for black lives in Ferguson as one driven by young people such as rapper Tef Poe, who are fed up with being targeted by police, and others like organizer Brittany Ferrell and her partner, Alexis Templeton, as well as Copwatch recruiter David Whitt, who want better for their children.

Whose Streets? is likely to serve as a counterweight to Detroit, the new Kathryn Bigelow film about the 1967 Detroit riots and the police murder of three unarmed black people at the Algiers Hotel. It’s not necessarily fair to compare narrative films like Detroit to documentaries, but there’s a similarity in the dynamic between the two that existed with Nina and What Happened, Miss Simone? Both Whose Streets? and What Happened, Miss Simone? end up correcting, or at least augmenting, the record of ahistorical narrative films that struggle with details in which race is central.

Nina made the mistake of casting Zoe Saldana as Simone, then putting her in makeup to darken her skin and prosthetics to make her facial features more closely resemble Simone’s. Detroit fails to imbue its characters with any depth or humanity and devolves into a slog of racist white police officers terrorizing a group of people in the Algiers.

Bigelow’s herky-jerky camerawork and editing in Detroit deliberately create a sense of chaos. Whose Streets?, by contrast, presents real footage of Ferguson buildings in flames after Brown’s death, but the overall effect is far more nuanced. It’s much easier to get a sense of what happened in Ferguson as pockets of violence and property damage pockmarked peaceful, if emotional, protests. Whose Streets? refuses to equate property damage with the loss of human life.

Folayan and Davis offer a potent work of media criticism too. Folayan and Davis communicate just how much cable news, by repeatedly and selectively broadcasting the most violent, hectic footage, was responsible for making Ferguson seem like a war zone whose residents were animalistic and out of control. That narrative was furthered by a distant, largely white media corps accepting police reports as gospel. Whose Streets? challenges that by juxtaposing footage of Ferrell and her cohorts protesting to shut down a highway in Missouri with the official police account of what happened, in which the arresting officer accused Ferrell of yelling out “tribal chants.”

For a moment, we also see what it means to send black journalists into a situation like Ferguson, where police in tanks and armored vehicles are shooting rubber bullets, smoke grenades and tear gas (a chemical agent that the Geneva Convention prohibits in warfare) at the city’s black residents. There’s a clip of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Ernie Suggs walking through Ferguson at night with his hands above his head as police bark orders at black protesters. The police draw no distinction. He’s black, so he might as well be one of them.

Brittany Ferrell leads a line of protesters as they face off with police in ‘Whose Streets?’

Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

The film gives voice to a community that’s reeling, mournful and frustrated. It has little faith in a government that’s failed it repeatedly. Spliced with footage of white public officials delivering statements that are often canned and worded to avoid legal liability, Whose Streets? brings the idea of two Americas, and two wholly different realities, to life. “Question normal,” it demands of its audience.

Despite the gravity of its subject matter, Whose Streets? has moments of dark levity. One interview follows a clip of President Obama giving a statement about Brown in his trademark style of measured reason.

“I’m waiting on me to have a black president. I still ain’t had me one,” a Ferguson resident named Tory says. “Wasn’t he a constitutional professor? Ain’t no constitution in Ferguson. Tell that n—- he need to teach a new class or bring his a– to Ferguson … and figure out why we ain’t got no constitution.”

Whose Streets? is understandably close in spirit to The Hate U Give, the best-selling young adult novel by Angie Thomas published earlier this year. The Hate U Give is told from the perspective of a teenage girl who is the sole witness as her unarmed best friend is shot and killed by a white police officer. The book, which is heavily influenced by Ferguson, is slated for a film adaptation starring Amandla Stenberg, Regina Hall, Russell Hornsby and Lamar Johnson. It’s early days yet, but I suspect that the film version of The Hate U Give and Whose Streets? will serve as cinematic bookends to understanding what black people went through in Ferguson before and after Brown’s death.

The documentary ends on a hopeful note, but no one in Whose Streets? is a Pollyanna, least of all Ferrell. She’s open about the fact that she’s taking prescription medication to treat anxiety and says she’s not sure the justice she and her partner are seeking will come in their lifetimes. They’re counting on another generation of troublemakers and revolutionaries to carry on. They’re raising one in their elementary-school-aged daughter McKenzie, seen in the film with her mothers leading a crowd and screaming as loud as she can, “WE HAVE NOTHING TO LOSE BUT OUR CHAINS!”

Idris Elba talks ‘The Dark Tower,’ Mayweather vs. McGregor, Usain Bolt — and Pelé Even with a resume that includes ‘The Wire’ and playing Beyoncé‘s husband, an underdog mentality keeps him motivated

It’s media day for Idris Elba: 48 hours before the release of his newest film, an adaptation of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower. Elba takes on the role of Roland Deschain (The Gunslinger) as he battles Matthew McConaughey as Walter O’Dim (The Man In Black) for the safety of the universe. Elba is genuinely excited, but admitted he knew very little about King’s eight-part, 4,250-page magnum opus when he first read the script. In fact, he hadn’t read a single page.

“It hadn’t piqued my interest,” he said. “But as soon as I got invited to the script, I was intrigued. I looked at all the iconography, thinking, ‘That ain’t me!’ ” He lets out a laugh from the pit of his stomach. “I’m reading the script like I’m the Man In Black, right? No, no, no. You’re The Gunslinger.”

Besides his title role in the BBC’s acclaimed series, Luther, for which he won a Golden Globe after being nominated five times for a variety of roles, Elba’s appeared in Prometheus, Finding Dory (2016), Beasts of No Nation (2015), Pacific Rim (2013), Thor (2011), and Takers (2010). He had a recurring role on the landmark series The Office, and starred with Beyoncé in 2009’s Obsessed. There were also many rumors about him becoming the next James Bond — Elba’s no stranger to diversity in his character portfolio.

But for many, the 45-year-old London-born superstar’s most lauded role will forever remain the shrewd, vindictive drug capo Stringer Bell in HBO’s Baltimore gospel The Wire.

He says that he works best when he feels a bit of an underdog.

“I grew up in a time where the complexion I have was not favored,” said Elba. “Lighter-skinned actors were favored in these roles. I’m used to being the underdog.” Could King’s character look like Elba? A black guy? The doubt was motivation for Elba. “I don’t really listen to it,” he said. “I’ll always go for the guy who has to work harder to get there. That’s pretty much been my journey.” (King has sung the praises of Elba’s work as The Gunslinger. He sees it as nothing short of incredible.)

In an ideal world for Elba, The Dark Tower is the beginning of what becomes a series — like The Lord of the Rings. There’s so much of King’s opus to be told that can’t be whittled down to a two-hour movie. But he’s also excited to talk about Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor’s upcoming fight, his fave athletes, and how certain streaming apps please the music nerd in him.

Favorite athlete of all time.

My favorite athlete was/is Pelé.

Exceptional choice. But why Pelé?

Phenomenal footballer. One of the greatest that’s ever did it.

“I’m a competitive person. I love to fight. I have a pain threshold.”

Favorite current athlete?

Usain Bolt, at this point.

I know you’re a big music fan. Are you #TeamTidal, #TeamSpotify or #TeamAppleMusic?

I use Tidal and Apple Music. I think they’re both great. I find Tidal interesting in terms of the accessibility to the footnotes and album credits. That’s something I like. I’m bit of a nerd. I like to see who wrote stuff and produced it. I find Tidal a lot more accessible in that sense. I think Apple Music is a great service all around. It works almost everywhere in the world. I like that.

To train for The Dark Tower, you trained in both boxing and mixed martial arts.

The best I’ve been in physical and mental health, the time my body works the best, is when I train. I’m a competitive person. I love to fight. I have a pain threshold. I consider myself alive as long as I’m able to go somewhere and hit a bag.

“I grew up in a time where the complexion I have was not favored.”

How do you think Mayweather-McGregor will play out later this month?

Floyd Mayweather has a challenge on his hands. He’s fighting someone at the peak of his career who’s a very agile mixed martial artist. I believe that there is a real chance of McGregor not penetrating the impenetrable Floyd Mayweather as a boxer. But penetrating his composure as a fighter.

So you’re giving McGregor a legit shot?

Listen, Floyd Mayweather’s camp is like, ‘Yo, man. How you gon’ say that?’ (Laughs.) But I never said he was gonna get beat. But there’s a chance that McGregor can lay one on him. And if he does that, he’s such a fast striker that he will continue to do it. Conor McGregor has nothing to lose. Floyd Mayweather has an impeccable 49-0 career to lose. So Conor McGregor’s coming in to fight and Floyd is gonna have to box because that’s what he knows. When you’re a mixed martial artist, you have certain agility that does a couple of things. One, boxers move slightly different when you’re being struck. And two, it gets annoying. Your composure goes in a different way because of the way kickboxers move. Now he’s not allowed to kick. He’s gonna have to box, but it’s about the agility. It’s about the striking, about how quickly they strike and the tempos. There are all sorts of things that I think Floyd needs to be very, very careful of. That’s just my opinion.

Nicki Minaj collaboration with Tasha Cobb draws mixed reactions on social media The hip-hop gospel crossover is due to be released in August

An unorthodox musical collaboration just shook the gospel music scene.

No Frauds rapper Nicki Minaj joined forces with gospel superstar Tasha Cobbs on a new song, I’m Getting Ready, which will be featured on Cobbs’ new album, Heart. Passion. Pursuit. Twitter was baffled, with mixed feelings and shock.

Mixed reactions are conventional when these two particular genres collaborate. Kirk Franklin took major shots and social backlash after he was featured on Kanye West’s “Ultralight Beam” song on his The Life of Pablo album that was released early last year. However, Cobbs, a Grammy Award-winning singer, doesn’t seem to be fazed by the backlash as she continues to promote the album.

Fans are eager to hear this track to see if gospel will be a new endeavor in Minaj’s career. The album’s release is set for Aug. 25.