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Who Will Stand with the 4th Ward Documentary

Doubling Hugetz & Evoking Public Mood:  Who Will Stand with the Fourth Ward? (1984)

Video Documentary (mp4)

Commentary by Chuck Jackson, PhD
Associate Professor of English
Coordinator, Film Studies and Faculty Fellow, Center for Critical Race Studies

Filmmakers Ed Hugetz and Brian Huberman created Who Will Stand with the Fourth Ward? (1984) as a follow up to the 1978 documentary Who Killed the Fourth Ward?, updating viewers on the status of Houston's longstanding African American neighborhood in the wake of political machinations to gentrify the area and push out low-income residents.  Who'll Stand is actually two films in one:  Part One of the film incorporates segments of Who Killed before transitioning to new content in Part Two.  Ed Hugetz serves as the film's narrator and interlocutor, introducing and explaining the two parts to the viewer and, in Part Two, appearing on-screen as an embodied interviewer as well as off-screen with voice-over narration. This uncanny doubling of Hugetz is remarkable and, some at UHD might argue, prescient. 

Part Two is the heart of Who Will Stand, returning six years later to the neighborhood's Allen Parkway Village (APV), a large, public housing project for low-income residents set for demolition by the Houston Housing Authority.  Lynwood Johnson, a resident of APV and an activist who wishes to preserve it, functions as the center of Part Two as he talks with Hugetz, works to organize residents, meets with and speaks back to authorities, and follows the money.  Through Johnson, the story of the housing project and the effort to save it takes shape.  Part Two of the film not only gives the viewer a rare look inside the project's apartments, it also preserves a history of African American and Asian American resistance to urban gentrification and makes explicit the connection between racism, vested interests, cultural belonging, and access to housing.
Still from Alligator Horses film, people in front of an older wooden building. A remarkable sequence in which Johnson and other community leaders struggle to get roughly two hundred residents not only to sign letters asking the federal government to prevent the demolition of the Village, but also to vote on whether or not they want the help of lawyers, stands out as the film's most affectively charged moment.  The sequence records a busy and cacophonous public meeting of residents, organizers, interpreters, a notary public, and lawyers.  Hugetz's intermittent voice-over grounds the viewer with summative information, but the sequence's more pronounced sounds include the real-time din in the hall, the echoing voices amplified by microphone, conversations that talk over each other, and miscommunications among African American, Vietnamese refugees, and white residents. 

The shots of the meeting are almost overwhelming and attune us, in film theorist Carl Plantinga's words, to the "sensuous affective background" that enhances the film's difficult, public mood ("Stimmung: Exploring the Aesthetics of Mood," Screen 53.2, Summer 2012; 152).  As many at UHD know, organizing a public to bring about political change has a certain feeling.  Add the need to translate and interpret across languages and cultures and the result is the noisy, crowded, confused, and frustrating, but also patient and, ultimately, optimistic feeling of this segment of the film.  The camera and sound put us in the thick of this uniquely Houston public moment and mood and constitute us – the spectators in the here and now – as part of it.