POV Flashback: An Update to ‘Street Fight’

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One of the things that always strikes me as I watch documentaries is that the stories don’t end as the credits start to roll. After they’ve given us a glimpse into their lives, documentary subjects go on living, usually out of the spotlight — and we, the viewers who have come to care about them, are often left wondering: “What happened next?”

At POV, we face this question again and again. The most popular part of our websites for our films are the “Update” sections, where we check in with the films’ subjects to see what they’ve been up to since the production wrapped up. Updates find many of the characters conquering personal demons or returning to a private life after being documented in a film. Yesterday, however, saw one of the characters in the 2005 POV film Street Fight, in the news: Sharpe James, the former mayor of Newark, New Jersey was convicted on five counts of fraud and faces up to eight years in prison.

The Academy Award-nominated Street Fight, by Marshall Curry, is a riveting look at the 2002 mayoral elections in Newark, New Jersey. Cory Booker, then a 32-year-old upstart challenger full of youthful energy and ideals, ran against four-time Mayor Sharpe James. The fast pace of the film shows the campaigns as they devolve into dirty tricks and intimidation. One of the most dramatic moments in the film comes when the film crew — and director Marshall Curry himself — becomes a target of Mayor James’ supporters: the mayor himself approaches the camera and has his security shut down the filming.

Booker lost the 2002 mayoral election to James, who served his fifth term as mayor of Newark from 2002-2006. Both men entered the 2006 race, but James soon dropped out. Later in 2006, newspapers reported that he was the target of a federal investigation for corruption and spending city money on personal entertainment.

The news came yesterday that the former mayor has been convicted of fraud for conspiring to sell city property to his then-girlfriend, who quickly flipped the city lots for hundreds of thousands of dollars in profit. Both James and his former girlfriend were convicted, and the sentencing is scheduled for July 29, 2008. It was a stunning blow for James, who had been the mayor of Newark for 20 years.

For more about Sharpe James’ conviction and his tarnished legacy in Newark, watch and read the coverage from The Star Ledger.

Having watched the acrimony of the 2002 mayoral elections in Street Fight, I can only wonder what Cory Booker thinks of his predecessor now. Does he finally feel vindicated because James’ misuse of power in office has been brought to light and justice has been served? Or does he have more understanding of the ways in which power can corrupt, now that he has served as mayor for two years? Cory Booker is serving as the 36th mayor of Newark, New Jersey. He is up for reelection in 2010.

Ruiyan Xu
Ruiyan Xu
Former POVer Ruiyan Xu worked on developing and producing materials for POV's website. Before coming to POV, she worked in the Interactive and Broadband department at Channel Thirteen/WNET. Ruiyan was born in Shanghai and graduated from Brown University with a B.A. in Modern Culture and Media.
  • Jessica

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    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    I just went to a screening of Revolution ’67 at the New York Public Library and one of the big themes of the discussion after the film was accountability – holding people accountable. and how do we hold people accountable? one way is by voting. or calling your city council. or …