[pullquote cite=”” type=”left, right”][amazon text=Amazon&template=carousel&chan=That Film Guy&asin=B00196SMXQ][/pullquote] Street Fight was originally devised by first time director Marshall Curry to follow both sides of the 2002 Newark mayoral election between 16 year incumbent Sharpe James and Corey Booker, a younger ivy league law graduate returning to his roots. With James’ entourage denying any access to his campaign, Curry was left following the trail of Booker which creates a rather one sided but still engaging documentary about a young man wanting to bring change to a city badly in need. With spiralling crime rates and only a 40% high school graduation rate, Newark ranks as the most dangerous and poorest performing of all New York boroughs.
Street Fight charts the six months leading up to election day beginning with Booker’s back story and showing his grass roots, street level campaigning style walking the local neighbourhoods, speaking to as many Newark residents as possible whilst in the background fund raising the colossal amounts required to mount a feasible challenge to James. What little we see of James along the way consists of his people ejecting us from his rallies portraying him as an inaccessible individual unconcerned by those with opposing views safe in the knowledge that his legions of loyal fans will win him the election, true mass popularity be damned.
Early in Street Fight it seems that Booker’s task may be too much but James’ biggest asset – his length of time spent in office – is something of a double edged sword. Whilst many Newark residents can see the good that has occurred in the last 16 years, many also feel that it is time for change and you feel that if Booker can reach out to enough of them, maybe he can pull off the shock victory.
The more we hear from local businessmen and residents, the more we learn that although many want change, the potential price to pay for opposing James can be great. Some revealing interviews describe strong arm tactics for those that dare to oppose his office and many have a genuine fear for their livelihoods if they step out of line. With his bully tactics keeping him in office for so long, you wonder if Booker stands a chance running against him and there is plenty to keep you interested over the 83 minute run time.
While the one-sided nature of Street Fight could have come off as a pure propaganda piece (and inadvertently in places it perhaps does), Curry does a good job of telling the Newark story rather than just the Booker story. Although filmed six years earlier, the story is reminiscent of the Obama campaign for the US presidency in 2008 and there are many parallels that can be drawn between the two naturally charismatic leaders.