In 2013, the Black Lives Matter hashtag began trending on Twitter, and gave birth to one of the most prominent civil rights movements of the 21st century. A new documentary of the same name examines the origins, influence and evolving mission behind this grassroots phenomenon. Collectively, these elements constitute the building blocks of a revolution.
The hashtag that came to define the racial divide in modern America was originally posted by Patrisse Cullors, a Seattle-based activist and theatre director who is interviewed in the film. Immediately following the exoneration of George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watchman who killed an unarmed teen named Trayvon Martin, Cullors expressed her aggravation and befuddlement on social media. Her simple eloquence gave voice to the frustrations of many throughout the United States and beyond. In the months that followed, the motivation to act in protest only intensified in the wake of multiple shootings involving white police officers and unarmed inner-city youths.
Cullors has chosen to channel her activist energies through her art. The filmmakers capture her in preparation for a new show which will tour across the country. Her production features a chorus of non-actors who express the realities of living in America as a person of color. Issues like racial profiling, police brutality, political stagnation and a compromised legal system are given tangible resonance when they're delivered in the guise of a personal story. The performers' accounts are harrowing, and they portray a daily existence dominated by fear, injustice, and a constant sense of endangerment from a ruthless and ever-watchful police and prison state.
People of color in America have lived under these threats for generations, but social media has finally given them an unfiltered platform from which they can share their experiences with the world. Racially motivated atrocities like the ones that recently gripped Ferguson, Baltimore, and Charlotte are broadcast and remarked upon almost instantaneously. The images they bring forth have served as a wake-up call for some, and a rallying cry for many others.
Produced by the highly acclaimed VPRO Backlight series, Black Lives Matter provides a potent overview of this ongoing crisis.