‘Mean Streets’ Program Features St. Louis-Based Documentaries and Filmmakers

“Mean Streets: Viewing the Divided City Through the Lens of Film and Television,”  will screen as part of the upcoming St. Louis International Film Festival and is presented by Washington University Libraries, Washington University’s Sam Fox School’s College of Architecture and Graduate School of Architecture & Urban Design, Cinema St. Louis and the Missouri History Museum. Several of the films in the five-day program feature St. Louis-based stories and subjects. In this post we’ll highlight documentaries by local filmmakers or producers with connections to St. Louis that explore the realities of a divided city through current and historical narratives.

All programs are free and open to the public. For descriptions of the films, visit the SLIFF website: http://www.cinemastlouis.org/film-categories/mean-streets-viewing-divided-city-through-lens-of-film-and-television.

“For Ahkeem” begins one year before the fatal police shooting of a black teenager in nearby Ferguson, For Ahkeem is the coming-of-age story of Daje Shelton, a black 17-year-old girl in North St. Louis. She fights for her future as she is placed in an alternative high school and navigates the marginalized neighborhoods, biased criminal-justice policies, and economic devastation that have set up many black youth like her to fail. After she is expelled from her public high school, juvenile-court Judge Jimmie Edwards sends Daje to the court-supervised Innovative Concept Academy, which offers her one last chance to earn a diploma. Over two years, Daje struggles to maintain focus in school, attends the funerals of friends killed around her, falls in love with a classmate named Antonio, and navigates a loving-but-tumultuous relationship with her mother. As Antonio is drawn into the criminal-justice system and as events in Ferguson — just four miles from her home — seize the national spotlight, Daje learns she is pregnant and must contend with the reality of raising a young black boy.

For Ahkeem will screen on Sat. Nov. 11, 7:00 PM at the Missouri History Museum. With co-directors Levine and Van Soest, producer Jeff Truesdell, field producer Brad Rayford, and subject Daje Shelton.


Told by the activists and leaders who live and breathe the Black Lives Matter movement for justice, “Whose Streets?” is an unflinching look at the Ferguson uprising. When unarmed teenager Michael Brown is killed by police and left lying in the street for hours, it marks a breaking point for the residents of St. Louis. Grief, long-standing racial tensions, and renewed anger bring residents together to hold vigil and protest this latest tragedy. Empowered parents, artists, and teachers from around the country come together as freedom fighters. As the National Guard descends on Ferguson with military-grade weaponry, these young community members become the torchbearers of a new resistance. Filmmakers Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis know this story because they’ve lived it. “Whose Streets?” is a powerful battle cry from a generation fighting not just for their civil rights but also for the simple right to live.

“Whose Streets” will screen on Sunday, Nov. 12 at 6:00 pm at the Missouri History Museum. With co-director Davis, co-producer Chris Renteria, subjects, and Washington U. Libraries’ Vernon Mitchell (curator of Popular American Arts and Culture and co-principal investigator of Documenting the Now).


“Never Been a Time” uses the 1917 East St. Louis race riot to unpack hidden facts that reveal the complexity of racism in all of America. The film links events separated by as much as a 100 years and as few as 20 miles, tracing the line between the East St. Louis pogrom — one of the worst racially motivated massacres in American history — and the 2014 racial uprisings in Ferguson and the 2017 protests in Minnesota over the shooting death of Philando Castile. Moving from micro to macro, the film broadens to include the full sweep of the African-American experience, showing the unequal citizenship accorded to blacks on all levels: economic, political, and social. The words of poets, the recollections of descendants, the analyses of scholars, and the testimonies of the 1917 victims create a multilayered documentary that demonstrates there has “never been a time” when people of African descent were treated with fairness in the U.S. without some type of demand for change.

“Never Been a Time” screens on Sunday, Nov. 5 at 7:30 pm at Washington University / Brown Hall. With director Ward-Brown and writer Harper Barnes, author of “Never Been a Time: The 1917 Race Riot That Sparked the Civil Rights Movement.”

“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 & Urban Design. “The Divided City” is funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

About the author

Reference and Outreach Supervisor in Special Collections.