For the second year in a row, Washington University Libraries partnered with Cinema St. Louis and others to present “Mean Streets,” a five-day program of both narrative and documentary works that show how film and television reflect problems within U.S. society, including the overt and covert racism that has long segregated our cities. The screenings were accompanied by discussions with filmmakers, film subjects, Washington University and outside scholars, and national cultural critics, followed by Q&As with the audience. Over the festival we attracted a total audience of approximately 1,800 students, faculty, and community members to our screenings.
Part of the goal of “Mean Streets” is to foster connections between Washington University Libraries, WU faculty, students, and the wider St. Louis community. Many of the screenings built upon Wash U faculty relationships, as post-film Q&As were facilitated by faculty from programs across the University, including Anthropology, American Culture Studies, English, African & African American Studies, Performing Arts, Architecture, and Political Science. Many screenings also involved the participation of WU Library representatives and librarians to facilitate conversations with both faculty and film-related guests.
Washington University Libraries documented many of these discussions, and a full playlist can be seen here. The documentary”For Ahkeem” screened to a full crowd at the Missouri History Museum. This film, along with “Whose Streets?”, a film about the killing of Michael Brown and the protests that followed, both give a vivid portrait of life in North St. Louis County for African Americans. While “Whose Streets?” follows multiple protesters as they react to and process the unprecedented events that occurred in St. Louis after Michael Brown’s death, “For Ahkeem,” is an intimate portrait of seventeen-year-old Daje Shelton. Shelton struggles to graduate from high school and navigates an environment of underfunded schools where punishment often leads to losing access to education, along with the trauma young people face at losing classmates to gun violence.
Screenings generated new collections content via the recording of Q&A discussions with Wash U faculty, Libraries reps, and filmmakers/film subjects, particularly related to local history and discussions otherwise linked to Film & Media collections, especially the Henry Hampton Collection, which contains all of the material related to his groundbreaking series “Eyes on the Prize,” and the William Miles Collection, whose films documented many aspects of the African American experience in America.
Other films from the “Mean Streets” programming that dealt with topics of race, economic devastation, violence, and justice were screened. The Q&A’s, when available, are linked below. Highlights include locally relevant films about the 1917 East St. Louis race riot, North St. Louis and Ferguson (“Never Been a Time,” “For Ahkeem,” and “Whose Streets?”), national films that deal with policing (“Marvin Booker Was Murdered,” “Blood Is at the Doorstep,” “True Conviction,” and a 50th anniversary screening of “In the Heat of the Night”), protest movements (“Copwatch” and “The Streets of Greenwood”), and racial divides in black working-class communities (“Priced Out,” “Street Fighting Men” and “Nat Bates for Mayor”). “Mean Streets” also includes international perspectives that look at the yearning for reconciliation in the West Bank (“The Field”) and the effort to help girls find their voices through poetry in an orphanage in Honduras (“Voices Beyond the Wall: Twelve Love Poems from the Murder).
“Mean Streets” is made possible through the generous funding of the Missouri Humanities Council and is part of “The Divided City” initiative, a joint project of Washington University’s Center for the Humanities and the College of Architecture and Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Design. “The Divided City” is funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.