How have monumental changes in media affected activism in the digital age? A new documentary, “Hope & Fury: MLK, the Movement and the Media,” tackles this question by looking at the roles the media played and continues to play in the civil rights movement, from the March to Montgomery to demonstrations in Ferguson, Missouri.
“Hope & Fury” directors Rachel Dretzin and Phil Bertelsen were present at Gorgas Library on Monday, January 14, for a special screening of part of the film and to answer audience questions. Hosted by The College of Communication and Information Sciences (C&IS), this event was part of a greater, university-wide celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday.
“We look at the movement through the lens of the media,” Dretzin said. “We also expand that lens to look at the way the media covers civil rights today.”
The film is narrated by NBC anchor Lester Holt and features interviews with prominent journalists and civil rights figures like Al Sharpton, Tom Brokaw and John Lewis. The screening was the first of 16 events during January at the University celebrating the life and legacy of Dr. King.
“The idea behind the events that we’re having on campus is to engage more students,” said Dr. George Daniels, Assistant Dean of Administration for C&IS. “Sometimes that means learning about what happened in the past, and sometimes it means understanding where we are in the present. Students need to be engaged, front and center.”
100 years ago, newspapers and radio stations were the only news media. 50 years ago, television news became king. Today, news is an instantaneous process, thanks to the rise of social media. Higher-quality smartphone cameras can broadcast around the world in a matter of seconds by millions of amateur photojournalists. As a result, the nature of activism has changed significantly.
As civil rights demonstrations continue nationwide in places like Ferguson, Missouri, social media has become the most popular and immediate outlet for news to break. Facebook Live streams, live-tweeting and other methods of sharing that would have been alien to marchers in Selma in 1965 have brought the modern civil rights movement back to the public eye. However, due to the global audiences of social media, the eye belongs to the entire world.
“All of our students in the College are focused on building messages, learning how to build messages, analyzing messages—all of those are tied up in this documentary,” said Daniels. “It was a really good example of the power of documentary as a form to convey a message about Dr. King.”