Agents of Change Review
14 Feb 2016
Agents of Change is as timely as it is compelling. In the age of the Black Lives Matter movement and college students of color demanding change on campuses all over the United States, the documentary film, Agents of Change, provides indispensable historical context for our present day youth uprisings. This film is directed and produced by Frank Dawson and Abby Ginzberg who were also present for the Q & A session after the screening at the Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles, California.
The first half of the film focuses on the student protests of at San Francisco State University in 1968, a little more than a decade after President Eisenhower had to intervene in Little Rock, Arkansas to ensure that the 1954 Supreme Court Ruling , Brown Vs. The Board of Education was enforced. 1968 was a time when young African Americans had abandoned the non-violent teachings of Dr. King and adopted the teachings of Malcom X, Stokely Carmichael, anti-war activists, The Black Panthers and were reciting the lyrics to James Brown’s “Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud!” These were the ingredients that created the atmosphere for the Black Student Union at San Francisco State University to push for the recruitment of more African American students as well as the addition of Black Studies department.
Dr. Sonia Sanchez, the esteemed poet and activist, is one of the accomplished cast members in Agents of Change. She tells of the day she passed around a list of names of black authors, artists, politicians, scientists, etc., to her students at SF State University and the only two people they were able to identify were Dr. King and Malcom X. It was evident to the black students and faculty alike that there was a great need for a Black Studies department on campus. However, the administration would never concede without a fight. With the daily presence of members of the Black Panther Party on campus, and the newfound alliance between the Black Student Union, Asian and Latino groups on campus along with the assistance of radical white students, the environment was ripe for a revolt against the status quo. Danny Glover is one of the many SF student activists featured in Agents of Change.
The second half of the film is centered around the struggle for a Black Studies department at Cornell University. This effort prompted the occupation of the student center at Cornell University in 1969. When the black students at Cornell were weary of being told by their professors that Africans have never contributed anything to civilization, the persistent alienation in classes and on campus and crosses burning in front of the black women’s residence, they decided to do something drastic in order to demand the attention necessary to bring about transformation. Within hours of taking over the student center, the black students holed up in the building had to deal with white fraternity members trying to break in and the threat of violent retaliation. So they decided to arm themselves.
The film gives remarkable details about the events which occurred while the students occupied the building, police action, the administration’s newfound willingness to engage in dialogue and what lead up to the students exiting the building still armed. The film also exhibits the pushback that the administration experienced for bargaining with the students.
Agents of Change also serves as a cautionary tale for future generations. This fight for equality on college campuses was alive and well in the 1960’s. Though there were some achievements attained as a result of the struggle, we became complacent in too many ways. Now the year is 2016 and this film is still relevant and the students are still fighting for many of the same things. For every educator, parent, student, administrator and American citizen interested in progressive action in institutions of higher learning, Agents of Change should be your blueprint.