In recent years, global economic and social forces have brought dramatic changes to Oakland, California. Year after year, rents grow higher, housing becomes scarcer, and longtime residents fear being pushed out of the city they call home. These dire circumstances are at the center of DISPLACED, a youth-made short documentary supported by a California Documentary Project grant, that premiered in January 2020. The films bring to light the toll gentrification has taken on young Oaklanders.
The project, led by Youth Beat, a nonprofit that provides free digital media training to Oakland and Bay Area youth, aims to “help inner-city kids get on a path that leads to success in college, career, and life.” This documentary, which took over a year to finish, involved over 30 Youth Beat students. According to Jake Schoneker, Executive Director of Youth Beat, “the effort was well worth it.”
“It’s vital to consider the viewpoints of young Californians and understand how policy affects them, because too often, they are not included in spaces where decisions are being made—decisions that they will feel the ramifications of more acutely than anyone else,” said Schoneker. “DISPLACED empowered our youth filmmakers with a platform to speak up about gentrification and to be part of the solution.”
The documentary follows the story of then-Youth Beat member Danielle Thompson, whose family—like scores of other Black families in the Bay Area—was forced to leave their rent-controlled apartment in Oakland. Pushed to the outskirts, an 80-minute commute from work and school, Danielle explores her love for the city while mourning the loss of the place it once was.
“As someone who was pushed out of Oakland, this project is extremely personal. It doesn’t get any more personal than telling your own story and letting people in to see the realities of gentrification,” said Thompson, who is now pursuing an MFA in filmmaking at Columbia College in Chicago. “Gentrification is especially important to the youth of Oakland because it’s their future. For kids who have lived here their whole lives, they’re now having to consider moving—not because they want to but because they might have to simply because of prices.”
DISPLACED was funded by a California Humanities California Documentary Project (CDP) NextGen grant, designed to support emerging media makers across the state. NextGen grants provide up to $15,000 in funding for the training and support of emerging media makers in the creation of short, insightful nonfiction films or podcasts that tell original stories about life in California today. In addition, NextGen-funded projects shed light on not only the problems we face but also on the solutions that youth are proposing and the futures they envision.
After the public screening of DISPLACED in January 2020, Oakland community members could share their own experiences with gentrification through dialogue and propose strategies and solutions for Oakland’s gentrification crisis. Youth Beat panelists at the premiere led the conversation.
“Young people are often dismissed as not wise enough to have anything important to say about world issues, but over the past decade I’ve spent working with young Oaklanders, I can promise that this couldn’t be further from the truth,” said Schoneker. “These documentarians are our future leaders—they will be the ones to shape policy, make change, and build a better world. Collecting and seriously considering their viewpoints, through projects like DISPLACED, is so crucial.”