Spike Lee Visits University Of Missouri, Views Student-made Documentary on University Race Relations

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Four months after Concerned Student 1950’s protests over race relations at the University of Missouri at Columbia forced two top university leaders to resign, the advocacy group’s movement continues. On Monday, protesters marched on the campus with a special guest — the pioneering filmmaker Spike Lee…

Kellan H. Marvin, a journalism and sociology student at the U. of Missouri at Columbia, is one of three student directors of a documentary about the advocacy group Concerned Student 1950.

Four months after Concerned Student 1950’s protests over race relations at the University of Missouri at Columbia forced two top university leaders to resign, the advocacy group’s movement continues. On Monday, protesters marched on the campus with a special guest — the pioneering filmmaker Spike Lee.

On Saturday, Mr. Lee attended the "True/False" film festival’s screening of a student-made documentary that chronicled the protests of Concerned Student 1950 as they happened. (The Maneater, a student newspaper, reports that Mr. Lee was following the protesters to film a digital short for ESPN.)

Kellan H. Marvin, a junior double-majoring in documentary journalism and sociology who co-directed the documentary, Concerned Student 1950, began following the group early last fall, before it began making national news. She spoke to The Chronicle about what it was like to be so close to the action, and what she has learned. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Q. Can you explain to me what the documentary covers?

Last fall student protests over race relations rocked the University of Missouri's flagship campus, in Columbia. The demonstrations prompted the university system's president and the flagship's chancellor to resign, and spawned a wave of similar unrest at colleges across the country. Now Mizzou's leaders face the difficult task of trying to meet students' demands for change while restoring stability and the public's faith in their institution. Read more Chronicle coverage of the turmoil in Missouri.

A. Our documentary covers everything with the Concerned Student 1950 movement, starting with the homecoming protests where they disrupted the parade, all the way up to Tim Wolfe’s resignation. Our first day of continuous filming was November 2nd, and our last day was the 13th. So basically, all through November we’ve been working on this. We had about 60 hours of film. To be honest with you, it still hasn’t sunk in, and I don’t know when it all will.

Q. Your team seemed to have a lot of access with the protest. How did you guys get it?

A. We had better access to the group, and we could stay at the campsite where they were protesting during the time leading up to Wolfe’s resignation. So we had a closer look at that side of the story than other media could get. Even before we started filming, Adam and Varun [the co-directors Adam Dietrich and Varun Bajaj] helped set up camp and kind of built the relationship that way. So it wasn’t always a relationship where we were always expecting to film, so they trusted us a little more. We established that relationship early on and had an agreement to be respectful and turn the cameras off when people needed a five-minute break.

Q. What were some of the advantages of being embedded in the camp?

A. I would film overnight and early morning. I think that is something that was so unique — that we got to capture what you didn’t get to see — since other media wasn’t allowed and it wasn’t a part of the story that they were interested in. There were a couple of demonstrations that the group had planned that were a little more private than just going around campus. You see in the film: They have this rehearsal of a tour of the "Real Mizzou," and they go through, date by date, and list all of these racist incidents that led up to the creation of Concerned Student 1950. And that is just part of the story that the national media wasn’t that interested in. I think being there helped us actually legitimatize the pain that they were experiencing while trying to get their education.

Q. What was it like being on the campus at this time? Could you feel that something really big was happening?

A. Everywhere you turned, it was all over Twitter, it was all over Snapchat, and it was just all over everything. But I think that was the point, you couldn’t get away from it. They wanted you to not be able to ignore this issue anymore. It was really when the football team announced they were all going to protest that we knew it was going to be a national story. We knew it was going to be big, but I don’t think we ever dreamed it was going to get as big as it got.

Q. What was the message you wanted to convey in the documentary, the side you wanted to show?

A. I was just frustrated that everyone wouldn’t want to look at the pain that the students were experiencing on campus because it is uncomfortable for them to talk about. It is uncomfortable, it is painful, it was a very emotional time, but I hope that it comes across in the film by offering that perspective that was dropped in the national narrative. If I have one goal, it’s just for people to believe that black students on campus have a different experience. It’s painful, and it shouldn’t be painful to get your education. I hope that it can add some legitimacy to the movement and change the way some skeptics view their decisions and demands.

Q. Did you have any worries while making the film?

A. I had a lot of anxiety about how the film being released would affect the members of Concerned Student 1950. The dust had finally started to settle, and then the film premieres, and suddenly it’s at the forefront, at least in Columbia, again. I had been stressed out about if they were going to start getting death threats again. Are they going to feel unsafe? Is this going to reopen old wounds? That’s still something I’m trying to come to terms with. When we premiered the film, at the Missouri Theatre, which seats 1,200 people, and it was full, and we brought five of the original 11 organizers out on stage, every single person in the audience was screaming their head off and applauding. I’m just so happy for the group because they’ve become like family, and I care about them so much.


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