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INDEPENDENT LENS: Ferguson Rises

Michael Brown Sr. holds a painting of Jr. donated by an artist
Courtesy of Rafael Roy
Michael Brown Sr. holds a painting of Jr. donated by an artist. (undated photo)

Premieres Monday, Nov. 8, 2021 at 10 p.m. on KPBS TV / On Demand

Before the global uprising condemning the murder of George Floyd and calls for police accountability echoed internationally, there was a small town in Missouri that erupted in protest after the Aug. 9, 2014 killing of Black teenager Michael Brown Jr. by a white police officer. Filmmaker Mobolaji Olambiwonnu’s documentary “Ferguson Rises” shines a spotlight on this small town that inspired a new global civil rights movement and chronicles a father’s journey as he grapples with the pain of losing a son.

“Ferguson Rises” explores the depths of the protests following Michael Brown Jr.’s killing through the eyes of his father, Michael Brown Sr., and many diverse voices in the community: from residents to police officers, to business owners and activists who took to the streets in protest for a record 400-plus days straight. “Ferguson Rises” will make its U.S. broadcast premiere on PBS’s INDEPENDENT LENS.

Trailer | Ferguson Rises

At the center of the documentary is Michael Brown Sr., who is interviewed at great length about his son’s death and the ways he overcame the pain that engulfed him and his family in the years that followed. In doing so, Olambiwonnu sheds light on the grief a Black father must cope with after the murder of his son, and the resiliency he builds alongside a community that rises up against racial injustice. The film follows Brown Sr. as he finds himself among families of victims of police brutality, all thrust into activism not by choice, but circumstance, and by a failed criminal justice system.

At the time of Michael Brown Jr.’s death, 67 percent of Ferguson residents were Black. The town, however, was patrolled by a police department in which only three out of 53 officers were Black, and perspectives on law enforcement’s treatment of Michael Brown Jr. were split, with some showing support and others who came out vehemently against it. The strikingly different perspectives come to the forefront of the film, and in interviews with both opponents of the Black Lives Matter movement and the activists leading it, audiences see a glimpse of the polarizing emotions that are still ingrained in justice reform conversations today.

“With ‘Ferguson Rises,’ I have tried to convey several things: the reality of what happened that day in Ferguson and what happens to Black people on a continual basis; the generally unrecognized human suffering; the rarely seen vulnerability and the strength of Black fathers and Black men in this country; the common humanity that we all share; and the reframing of our suffering into hope, togetherness and action,” said Olambiwonnu. “I also hope that through the stories of Michael Brown Sr. and the community of Ferguson, we can learn not to judge things and people on a surface level. And perhaps most importantly, I hope the film reminds America of all that they can learn from Black people when it comes to resilience, strength and faith. With this mindset, we can then stop harping on the pathologies of Black Americans, and rather, focus on honoring their contributions.”

“Ferguson Rises” is a part of INDEPENDENT LENS’ Stories for Justice initiative, created to spark community conversations and boost the work of people on the front lines of justice reform. By connecting documentaries, docuseries and journalism to community-led engagement, Stories for Justice is a multi-year commitment to bold storytelling about racial inequities in systems across America.

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This episode will be available simultaneously with the broadcast on the INDEPENDENT LENS website, PBS.org and the PBS Video App.

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Credits:

Director/ Producer: Mobolaji Olambiwonnu. Producers: David Oyelowo, Jessica Oyelowo, Tanayi Seabrook, Tj Odebunmi, Daisy Mo, Lisa Smithline, Tamika Lamison and Nick Moon. Editors: Brandinn French and Jeff Striker. Executive Producers: Sandra Evers-Manly, T.J. Martin, Gigi Pritzker and Kai Bowe. INDEPENDENT LENS is presented by ITVS with Lois Vossen as executive producer.