The Ferguson Effect: Wehrenberg Theaters Pulls Documentary About Race in St. Louis County

Categories: Michael Brown

spanishlakedoc1.png
Spanish Lake
A scene from the documentary Spanish Lake.
With violence erupting in Ferguson night after night, right now might be the perfect time to watch Phillip Andrew Morton's new movie Spanish Lake.

The documentary chronicles the racial tensions and federal decisions that drove white residents out of the unincorporated north St. Louis County township Spanish Lake, just eight miles from Ferguson.

But if you're in St. Louis and hoping to watch Spanish Lake on the big screen, you're out of luck. Wehrenberg Theaters, a local movie-theater chain, says it's pulling the movie before it has even been widely released.

"With all the negativity going around, we wanted to look at a different opening date for it," says Kelly Hoskins, vice president of marketing for Wehrenberg. "I think it would get lost.... We think, right now, people won't really pay attention."

See all Riverfront Times coverage of Michael Brown and Ferguson.

The theater told Spanish Lake's producers they were afraid of showing a movie that shines a spotlight on the issues underlying the nightly unrest in Ferguson.

"They were concerned with what would go on at the theater if they played the film," says Matt Jordan Smith, executive producer and producer of Spanish Lake. "It could incite violence or conflict."

Smith says while there's nothing in the movie that advocates violence or rioting, he and Morton are sensitive to the difficulties facing the entire St. Louis region now. So far, they haven't heard when Wehrenberg will show the film.

"We've been trying to tell them this is the entire journey of our film," Smith tells Daily RFT.

See our review: How Ferguson became Ferguson: Urgent Doc Spanish Lake Tracks a St. Louis Suburb's Shift from White to Black

The movie's YouTube trailer has started to go viral since Ferguson became its own hashtag and images of highly militarized riot police spread around the world. The film's producers say people viewed the trailer 10,000 times on Sunday, possibly looking for some clue to explain how years of racial divides have grown into full-on riots, looting and violence.

"The racial tensions are so bad, especially in St. Louis," Smith tells Daily RFT. "Neither Phillip [Andrew Morton] nor I were surprised it has boiled over to this point. You can feel the segregation, it's so thick."

Morton's film tells the story of the degeneration of Spanish Lake, where he grew up before earning a film degree at Webster University and moving to California. The unincorporated township grew into an idyllic, mostly middle-class white refuge at the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers in the post-war years, but without an official, incorporated city government, Spanish Lake residents couldn't push back against the federal officials scouting new sites for high-density urban housing.

Poorer black families started moving in, launching a mass exodus of white families to St. Charles County -- part of a nationwide social phenomenon known as "white flight."

"St. Louis is particular in that we are not only segregated by race, we are segregated by class and religion in a hyper-segmented way," Morton tells Daily RFT. "I want to portray the reality of the situation. I wasn't interested in using rose-colored glasses on this story."

White flight isn't unique to St. Louis, but the rapid decline of Spanish Lake is powerfully illustrative. In 1990 Spanish Lake was 80 percent white; by 2010 it was 80 percent black. Today, it's mostly empty.

Morton's own father moved to Ferguson and had to consider evacuating his home as violence there grew last week.

Follow Lindsay Toler on Twitter at @StLouisLindsay. E-mail the author at Lindsay.Toler@RiverfrontTimes.com.



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54 comments
Al Jensen
Al Jensen

We've talked about race. We have talked and talked and talked. It's time to change the drug laws that negatively affect everyone, but particularly people of color. Next we need to set limits to the use of no-knock warrants. Then we need to change the mandatory sentencing laws.

Reinventing Carrie
Reinventing Carrie

I find censorship of art to be offensive. Refusing to show this movie is censorship. Deciding what I can see or not see is reprehensible. What's next burning books?

Garry Olson
Garry Olson

Yes. This isn't a subject to not discuss. The subject of race should not be considered taboo to talk about. That's part of the problem..

Tony Wallace
Tony Wallace

I want to see this film but I know this is not the right time to be released. I have read about this white flight and it is interesting info. Perhaps I give the city too much credit but this could have and should have been avoided instead of contributed to. Clearly some of these issue are beyond race but a matter of poverty. Still embarrassing to see some behaviors.

Sharon Walker
Sharon Walker

Smart idea.....but I do want to eventually see the movie

dalediversity
dalediversity topcommenter

I guess the "protestors" in Ferguson don't want to see why people left.  

Jennifer Hrabal Cooke
Jennifer Hrabal Cooke

We left in 2003, couldn't stay any longer because of the crime and violence that had grown in our neighborhood. It was a bittersweet move! But it was an issue of safety for our family.

Colleen Peck
Colleen Peck

They could care less and they aren't losing much.

Jabari Madison
Jabari Madison

Why cant we all just love one another why do we hate is it because of fear i dont hate whites jews mexicans arabs indians etc

Charles W. Haines III
Charles W. Haines III

WTF is right. Wehrenberg plays documentaries? It looks like we can't say the "R" word in St. Louis now.

Andrea Hilliard
Andrea Hilliard

If something can be destroyed by truth, it should be.

Andrea Hilliard
Andrea Hilliard

Because not talking about it will make it all go away.

Jesda Ulati
Jesda Ulati

Was really looking forward to seeing this

markie19
markie19 topcommenter


11 days ago

READ SEE THE FRIEND IN THIS VIDEO CLIP THAT HAS BEEN GOING ON MOST PEOPLE HAVE BETRAYED ME CAREFUL IT COULD BE YOUR SPOUSE AND YOU COULD NEVER KNOW OR YOUR BEST FRIEND OR YOUR DOCTOR -MINE I THINK WAS GOING TO LET THEM KILL ME-HE IS INVOLVED DR BEACH READ MARKIE MC NIGHT I NEED DR PHIL DR BEACH HAD A CON MAN IN HIS OFFICE THAT DATED PEGGY AND WAS ON DR PHIL-MY MEDICAL RECORDS WERE STOLEN TOO-WATCH YOURS READ MARKIE MC NIGHTEdit (in 6 minutes)

DeleteShare
DeleteShareLikeReplymarkie19Jul 20, 2014

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markie1918 hours ago


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Bryan Maxwell Dee
Bryan Maxwell Dee

This is no time to allow ourselves to be divided by facts and reality. Quick, everybody plug your ears and say, "La la la, I can't hear any racism therefore it isn't real."

nelsonb1212
nelsonb1212

Probably a good call.. would like to see the movie - but people need a breather in this community. The environment is just too volatile.  We do need to start these conversations though - hard as they may be - to talk about issues with respect and open minds. 

Laura Dee
Laura Dee

Not that I can even afford movies anymore, but I'll be going to AMC from now on.

KittyLitterKing
KittyLitterKing

In 1990 Spanish Lake was 80 percent white; by 2010 it was 80 percent black. Today, it's mostly empty.  ----Per census data, Spanish Lake is down about 8% from the high point of its population.  That's hardly "mostly empty"  The racial shift is another matter entirely.

Melissa Needles
Melissa Needles

You've done a beautiful thing and I hope it gets the recognition it deserves.

Kelly Hawkins
Kelly Hawkins

I think it's good, we need racial unity in these tough times where it seems people are trying to divide us.

Stevepowers
Stevepowers

Oh so they exploited the situation by using it as an opportunity to market their film. Sound like a couple of dicks to me. This film is several years old by now and has nothing to do with Ferguson. Go AWAY!

Sue Kasen
Sue Kasen

Now is not the time to show this very interesting film. I feel it will only bring a deeper divide.

Jimmie Thomptson
Jimmie Thomptson

just look at the news today & maybe you will understand about race in general, people, meaning we all, bring to this life what we want, don't know of any other race that thrives on their racism & violence & destruction, and really isn't happy until they will bring us all down..............

whispertheocean
whispertheocean

@RiverfrontTimes this whole situation could hav started open honest racism/class discussion but the media fucking killed hope w hate fuel

Dave Steiner
Dave Steiner

Damn shame. Wanna know how #Ferguson happened? Watch #SpanishLake.

Stevepowers
Stevepowers

Kind of sick dude, exploiting the murder of a person to promote your film. But it's always about the dollar. You suck.

Stevepowers
Stevepowers

@byron.weiss @Stevepowers who cares it is still a total dick move. he hopes it makes money, it won't because it has already been made, read all about "white flight in st louis" all over the internet from Al Jazerra to the nytimes, and there is already a better movie out too, the Myth of Pruitt Igoe.

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