Friday, March 14, 2014

The Changing Face of Harlem

I met Shawn Batey at the San Diego Black Film Festival in January. She told me about her documentary, The Changing Face of Harlem. I wanted to see it, but had missed the showing. Fortunately for me, Ms Batey had a DVD with her available for purchase. Without hesitation, I purchased it. This was a FABULOUS decision.

The Changing Face of Harlem, a documentary directed by Shawn Batey, takes a thought provoking, comprehensive look at the redevelopment and gentrification of Harlem. Batey begins with a brief pictorial history of Harlem starting with its birth as a Native American settlement, through each of its incarnations to present times. Once a retreat for Manhattan’s Upper Crust in the 19th Century, Harlem reinvented herself, next becoming the seat of African American culture and thought during the Harlem Renaissance of the  early 20th century, later enduring the struggles and pains of the Great Depression, going on to survive an era of upheaval, political unrest, and neighborhood deconstruction from the 1960’s through the 1970’s. Now a community perched upon prime real estate steeped in history, culture, and architecture, many groups are taking a new look at this neighborhood. Ms. Batey presents an unbiased, discerning view of the different factions vying for a stake in this magical two mile area, which has fueled the world’s imagination for decades.

In this film, Batey encourages viewers to consider options on how to sustain the vested interests of native Harlem residents, while at the same time creating opportunity for real estate investors and their affluent clients, without disenfranchising or excluding either group. How does Harlem maintain its identity without losing itself to corporate America and gentrification? Is there room for all to coexist?  Batey leaves this question open for her audience to decide. She simply paints a global picture, incorporating the opinions of all those involved: the street vendor, the 50 year resident, the upper income investors looking for cheaper housing stock (with Victorian architectural accents), the politician, and the corporate investor.

The Changing Face of Harlem is an excellent film, providing insight to residents of historical neighborhoods, community activists, real estate developers, politicians, and corporate investors who desire to understand the dynamics and challenges involved with revitalizing, rehabilitating, developing and investing in cultural and historical neighborhoods like Harlem around the nation. Ms. Batey’s film should be viewed and considered by anyone planning to engage in any community redevelopment and revitalization plan.

To learn more about Shawn Batey and The Changing Face of Harlem, please visit her website:

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