‘Small Signs’, a powerful look at the underbelly of a tourist town

by Madrone Kalil Schutten, Ph.D., Guest column for the Meteor

Friday, October 23, 2020

Small Signs: A Protest in Flagstaff, Arizona is a documentary on the pulse of the second wave of the civil rights movement. Levi Stallings’ film hones in on the eruption of dissent incited by the murders of Ahmaud Arbery (February 23rd), Breonna Taylor (March 13th) and George Floyd (May 25th). This trifecta of murders re-ignited the Black Lives Matters movement across the country creating a sustained effort to agitate the status quo by intersectional groups of American people marching for meaningful change, not simply reform.

The film gives viewers a glimpse into how the Black Lives Matter movement is manifesting in small towns across the United States. Flagstaff is a city that occupies indigenous land and because of this fact the film uniquely addresses some of the long-term consequences of settler colonialism. The director weaves together issues of unsheltered minority community members alongside racial profiling, racial violence, and how Flagstaff is ultimately a segregated society.

Small Signs is a powerful look at the ugly underbelly of a tourist town and the police that protect capital over human life. In this way, Stallings’ film makes a plea to viewers that our priorities as a society are drastically out of balance. That human life should matter more than a pack of smokes, a pair of jeans, or candy. What is wrong with a society that treats its human beings with such lack of dignity, decency, and sovereignty?

Small Signs asks viewers to reflect on how they are complicit and implicated in racist acts ultimately leaving them with a call to be antiracist. In this way the film works to explore and interrogate the economic priorities of the town and explains how alternative systems of care and protection could be enacted in communities. Viewers will appreciate the ways the film directly addressing what “de-fund the police” might mean. Stallings’ film communicates that the current system is not healthy for literally anyone. Moreover, that the repressive state apparatus, such as the police, are designed to maintain a social order regardless of how positive or negative that social order is. Ultimately, this institution does not “protect and serve.”

The voices viewers are exposed to in the film span a diverse group from long-time indigenous movement leaders, therapists, students, criminologists, and importantly, community activists. This film is perfect for educators and community members alike who want to tackle the important implications and calls to action of this current moment in American history.

Madrone Kalil Schutten, Ph.D. (She, Her, Hers); Madrone is Associate Professor Communication Studies, at Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, Arizona, and Associate Faculty in Women and Gender Studies, NAU

Here’s a link to the film: ‘Small Signs’, Flagstaff resident releases documentary on summer of protests in Flagstaff, AZ

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