The Divided City Initiative in St. Louis: Q&As from the Mean Streets Program

Many films in the Mean Streets program featured St. Louis and the recent events in Ferguson that sparked the Black Lives Matter movement and a national discussion about race, segregation, and police brutality.

Bob’s Tour: Understanding What We See, directed by Washington University graduate Jun Bae, is a profile of Bob Hansman, a much-loved architecture professor at WU. For many years, Hansman has taken his students on an unusual bus tour of the racially divided city of St. Louis. The tour travels through Ferguson, the old Pruitt-Igoe housing site, the previously vibrant Mill Creek Valley, Ivory Perry Park, to name just a few stops. The tour is a physical journey, but Hansman’s insight allows the viewer to understand the deliberate historical actions, such as the redlining practices that led to economic and racial segregation in the city. Hansman’s extensive knowledge of St. Louis elucidates these historical structural inequalities and reveals how they are still with us today.

“It’s less about Ferguson, in some ways–than in the way it’s manipulated and portrayed, or the way it’s being focused on…there are a lot of places in St. Louis that are more Ferguson than Ferguson. And for a lot of us, we were somewhat surprised that that’s where it happened.” — Bob Hansman

Gentlemen of Vision, directed by Jim Kirchherr & Frank Popper, focuses on the competitive stepping team Gentlemen of Vision (GOV) based in the struggling working-class suburbs of St. Louis. The film follows GOV founder Marlon Wharton, whose leadership goes beyond coaching the athletic stepping. By demanding total commitment and dedication from the young men on the team, he inspires students to succeed academically and continue on to college after graduating from high school. The film follows a few of the team members as they relate their path to join GOV and what being in the group has given to them. GOV performed after the screening to an extremely appreciative audience of over 500 people.

Mean Streets curated a group of short films, some of which explored events directly related to Ferguson. Doc Shorts: Black Lives Matter featured Black Brunch (dir. Dennis Desai),  which documented a Black Lives Matter protest at an upscale restaurant; Concerned Students 1950 (dir. Adam Dietrich, Varun Bajaj & Kellan Marvin), which documented a series of racist acts at the University of Missouri-Columbia and students’ responses to them;  A Ferguson Love Story (dir.  Lonnie Edwards), which examines the events in Ferguson after the killing of Michael Brown; and Profiling Race: Mike Higgins (dir. Matthew Seilback & John Pa), a profile of Mike Higgins’ life and work in the Black Lives Matter movement.

The Q&A featured comments from Adam Dietrich, Varun Bajaj, Kellan Marvin, and Dennis Desai.

About the author

Reference and Outreach Supervisor in Special Collections.