Inside the Safe Spaces: Concerned Student 1950

Concerned Student 1950 - Field of VisionConcerned Student 1950
Directed by Adam Dietrich and Varun Bajaj
Now streaming at TheIntercept.com

When protests erupted at the University of Missouri last year over long-simmering racial tensions, they quickly fell prey to widespread dismissal and mockery. Made for Laura Poitras’s alt-journalism Field of Vision lab for The Intercept, this short documentary by three Mizzou students (the directors and a third filmmaker, Kellan Hayley Marvin) is not simply a record of those demonstrations but an active attempt to reclaim them—to provide offsetting context to moments that helped shape the larger media narrative about the protests.

The crux of the film revolves around the infamous “safe zones” erected around campus to try and push back against media, a reactive measure condemned by just about everyone. No real justification is mustered for the intimidation tactics and aggressive taunts, but the more private footage of protesters offers the chance to see students discussing fears of being made into caricatures, fears justified by a filmed interaction between a friendly, senior interviewee and condescending Fox News anchor who tells him off-air to get a job and pay taxes. Nothing absolves the young people of their overzealous, counterproductive behavior, but some attempt is made to understand what prompted it.

Though the filmmakers’ sympathies clearly lie with the protesters, the documentary steps past the immediate concerns of Concerned Student 1950 and instead captures a portrait of protest adapting to the modern media age, where “hashtag activism” is backed-up by real-world action. Scenes of students practicing their demonstrations, for example, both their slogans and their locked-arm solidarity against potential harassment, hark back to generations-old protest preparation.

But just as the demonstrations manifest fury that was stoked on social media, so too do sites like Facebook and Twitter influence the protests as they happen. It is through social media that the revelation of anti-media tactics prompt and immediate and overwhelming outcry, and the swift dissemination of instructions to deal with reporters more equitably sees a response to this criticism almost in real-time. Exploitation of media visibility has long been a crucial element of any major protest, but Concerned Student 1950 provides a glimpse into an age when media can exploit right back.

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