Sunday, June 14, 2015

Documentary on 1967 Newark Riots Premieres at Seton Hall

South Orange, New Jersey: For the first time in several decades, the population of New Jersey's largest city is increasing. Newark, the seat of Essex County, is now home to several mixed use developments, an increasing commercial presence, and thousands of new residents. This reverses a trend of population decline that began in the middle of the twentieth century, and spiked following the violence that plagued the city in July, 1967. 'The Week that Changed the World', a new film by West Ward native Kevin McLaughlin, highlights this trend. The film premiered during a private event on Saturday afternoon at South Orange's Seton Hall University, McLaughlin's alma mater.

McLaughlin was introduced to premiere attendees by Seton Hall University professor Peter Savastano, a Newark native who called 'The Week that Changed the World' a "very timely documentary" because of recent protests across the country.

'The Week that Changed the World' focuses not only on the five days of violence that caused 26 deaths and massive property destruction, but it informs the audience about what has changed in the years since the riots. South Orange resident Andre Braugher narrates as former members of the New Jersey National Guard, former Newark Police officers, retired Newark firefighters, former New Jersey State Police troopers, and current community members share their memories of the riots.

According to one interviewee, "Newark was very much a segregated city" before the riots, and had segregated movie theaters. Another interviewee describes how, as a child, she was not allowed to go west of Broadway on Halloween due to the tension between Newarkers of different races and ethnicities.

Other interviewees include Newark's mayor, Ras Baraka, and preceding mayors Cory Booker, Sharpe James, and Kenneth Gibson. 

Many of the interviewees attended the premiere. 

Several interviewees blamed the New Jersey State Police and the National Guard for causing the 26 deaths. Others faulted the Newark Police Department for causing the events that led up to the rioting.

"The Newark Fire Department was the only organization that no one (in the film) criticized", McLaughlin pointed out during a question and answer session that followed the screening. 

McLaughlin's father, who was a firefighter for the Newark Fire Department at the time of the 1967 riots, appears in the film. 

"I grew up in the shadow of these events", McLaughlin told Essex County Place. 

Asked about the current redevelopment of parts of the city, McLaughlin said that he is "hoping for Newark", and that he is "encouraged by what he see(s)".

During the question and answer session, an attendee criticized McLaughlin for not including the efforts of the New Community Corporation (NCC) in the 'The Week that Changed the World'. NCC, a non-profit organization, was established following the riots to provide housing for Newarkers. McLaughlin responded that several topics were cut for time.

Another attendee pointed out that the Newark riots of 1967 are rarely included in the school curriculum, and that she knew little about what had occurred during those five July days before seeing 'The Week that Changed the World'.

"You changed my life today", she told McLaughlin.

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