By Aaron Allen
Writer, director, and film producer Michelle Flowers-Taylor was recently honored by the Best Shorts Competition for her cinematic short documentary “Reimaging Freedom West.” The film, which took two years and six versions to complete, sheds light on the work of 1,000-plus multi-cultural residents’ fight to protect their homes in the Fillmore District.
Narrated by humanitarian, San Francisco native and award-winning actor Danny Glover, Reimagining Freedom West places a spotlight on gentrification in the San Francisco Bay Area, and follows the struggles of residents to advance the $2 Billion Freedom West 2.0 revitalization project to deliver on the economic empowerment promises made to them over 40 years ago.
For his contribution to Reimagining Freedom West, the film received The Best Shorts Film Competition’s Award of Excellence: Narration / Voice-Over Talent.
Taylor-Flowers, a native of Seattle, says that it was only fitting that Glover be involved with the project given his long history of activism in the Bay Area.
“The reason why he [Danny Glover] did the project was because he has been an activist in the community going back 40, 50 years,” says Flowers-Taylor. “Many people are unaware that he was an activist before he was actor. He was involved in the Filmore District where he fought alongside people for many years to make sure the Black families had equitable housing.”
“I was fortunate enough to do this wonderful documentary project,” says Glover. “Because [this project] brought back so much, so many memories that I’ve had from the time that I was a child.”
“All those memories began to kind of flourish in me of supporting those people who have been removed because of gentrification,” continued Glover. “But that is certainly a part of why this is so important for me to be a part of this project.”
A graduate of Mercer Island High School, Flowers-Taylor went on to receive a bachelor’s degree from University of Washington. She later attended New York Film School, Temple University where she received her master’s in visual anthropology and Loyola Marymount where she received a Doctorate in Educational Leadership and Social Justice.
Inspired by her husband’s upbringing in Freedom West, a co-op in the famed Filmore District of San Francisco, the documentary follows the journey of the Freedom West co-op to securing a sense of stability for the Black community in San Francisco. It talks about the pathway the residents took to keep their homes and to plan for the future of their neighborhood.
“Freedom West was a co-op that a minister started at Bethel AME Church [in San Francisco] as a means to maintain the Black community,” says Flowers-Taylor. “He says back in the 60s he saw a lot of Black people being pushed out because it was getting more and more expensive, and this was a means for people to be able to stay.”
When asked about her motivation for the project, Flowers-Taylors says that she felt compelled as both an educator and an artist to shed light on this issue of gentrification and the impact it can have on local communities.
“[The film] received an award because I think number one Danny Glover’s involvement,” says Flowers-Taylor. “But it also touches on a very important subject and that is racial equity and housing.”
“This [project] is important to me because what I see happening in San Francisco is happening in my hometown of Seattle, those old neighborhoods that I knew so well growing up in the Central District, and the Valley,” says Flowers-Taylor. “What has happened in my city is I see working class families struggling to stay in the homes that they have owned for generations because gentrification is pushing people out and our communities have spread throughout the region. There has got to be a different way to do it.”
Using her artistry to convey a very important civic and human rights issue, Flowers-Taylor now sets her sights on expanding her message and turning Reimagining Freedom West into a full-length feature film.
“With the Freedom West community in the Filmore District I see that as a model,” says Flowers-Taylor. “How we can maintain homeownership, whether it be homeownership or cooperative, we can maintain our communities and improve around those existing families and have them be apart of the new development.”
“We don’t have to discard people,” she continued. “Those are the people who make the community and they should be included and have a say.”