The Baltimore Uprising was and continues to be an emotionally taxing string of events. Besides the obvious issues like Freddie Gray's unwarranted death, being under military occupation (in mostly black areas of the city) and learning the layers of reasons for why we've reached this point, something that has come up throughout various conversations with people in meetings and on the street is disconnect. This isn't a new thing for members of the black community. If fortunate, we're groomed to understand that when it comes to systematic oppression, a good deal of people (even within the community) don't get it. Watching how matters relevant to us as black people are covered on a daily basis makes this clear. You may not even face that disconnect directly but you quickly learn it exists. The uprising sure as hell brought it to our front doors, though; Still-faced cops and National Guard members standing with guns as long as their legs, media members treating suffering as just another day at the job and people outside of the black community seemingly present at demonstrations for more of a social outing than recognizing the severity of the situation. While this is not true for each person belonging to the aforementioned groups, this is what they frequently represent for black people.
In his new short film, "Peace In The Absence Of War", Baltimore-based filmmaker Theo Anthony surveyed the city from the night of the initial uprising, April 27th, to the following Saturday, highlighting the expression on the faces of police, National Guard officers, media members and onlookers. Starting at a free concert given by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Anthony beautifully illustrates that disconnect at various demonstrations throughout the week.
We're happy to give the first look at Anthony's short which is available to watch below, along with a short Q&A:
The focus here seems to be on the disconnect certain groups had during the uprising in Baltimore. Do you think people don't want to connect or are they for one reason or another completely oblivious?
Theo Anthony: I don’t think people are oblivious. I think that people do want to connect but don’t have the resources or the network to do so in an effective manner. We all talk about how segregated Baltimore is, for good reason. But the corollary of that is people don’t even really leave their neighborhoods. East Side you mostly stay on the East Side, West Side you mostly stay on the West Side. Living in Guilford you might head to Trader Joe’s or Station North for a movie, but you definitely aren’t going to the West Side. I’m guilty of this, lots of people are guilty of this. So people are hanging out with other people that more or less look the same, more or less make the same amount of money, not being challenged by outside human perspectives, and echo chambers of general consent get made. Echo chambers are safe, you hear the same things that you just said being thrown right back at you, you feel good, you feel like you’re in the right, you’re validated. Depending on which group you have the privilege to fall in, you can move on, or you can’t. Disparity deepens, nothing changes.
Why did you choose to frame the piece in this way? Like, with no dialogue?
TA: Most of my work I’m more interested in the peripheral action than the main event itself. With this piece, that was the concert, the occupation by the military and the media alike, and the eerie landscapes after-curfew. On their own, they don’t do much, but thrown together in the context of the last few weeks it gives those scenes a weird tension that was most in line with the complexities of the gap between the actual, physical occurrence of an event and it’s representation. I really used to like the blooper reels or the outtakes section of DVDs. I like the idea that this is like a dark blooper reel of the Baltimore coverage, like some intern at the news station got a little too eager and pointed the camera the wrong way.
In sociopolitical conflicts like what happened here, it's difficult to pinpoint who should be doing what. You mentioned people like the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra who were playing to people who weren't directly endangered by what happened that week. How do you think their goodwill could have been more effective?
TA: What was really amazing to see throughout everything was how Baltimore really started fighting for its own representation. There was an increased awareness not only of the issues, but the process by which these issues become a commodity for the media market. Like people studied the playbook and knew what was coming. I don’t think Geraldo Rivera can ever do a news story in Baltimore again. I saw a WBAL-TV anchorwoman shouted back into her van and speed off because members of the Penn-North community had watched her broadcast the night before and she’d put on some drunk guy who was made into an image-pawn of the lawless neighborhood. That was really cool to see, that sort of understanding of process coming into fruition. So yeah, there’s so many things, but that awareness, that disruption is a start.