Architecture on Film: Flag Wars

The UK premiere of Laura Poitras (Citizenfour) and Linda Goode Bryant’s award winning observation of a black working class neighbourhood as it receives an influx of white homosexual homebuyers, forcing identity, capitalism and community into a collision.


06:30pm, Tuesday, 6 November 2018


08:30pm, Tuesday, 6 November 2018


Cinema 3
Beech St,
London, EC2Y 8DS



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This is a past event

Flag Wars (UK Premiere)

The UK premiere of a SXSW award winning, Emmy nominated documentary observing the complex urban conflicts at play when a black working class neighbourhood in Columbus, Ohio receives an influx of white homosexual homebuyers. Using the tools of cinema verité, with great intimacy, nuance and balance the film watches as identity, politics, capitalism and community collide with the American Dream of homeownership.

Shot over four years, during which time Richard Florida would publish his controversial treatise on the role of the ‘creative class’ and ‘gay index’ in urban regeneration, Flag Wars offers a careful case study of gentrification, depicting the subtle drama of urban redevelopment as it plays out on the street, over the dinner table, in the courtroom and at the estate agent’s.

Directed by Linda Goode Bryant (founder of gallery Just Above Midtown (1974-86), the non-profit Active Citizen Project, and Project EATS) and co-directed, as her first film, by the now highly acclaimed, Academy Award winning filmmaker Laura Poitras (Citizenfour, Risk), Flag Wars candidly concerns itself with the consequences and processes of urban change, observing the plight of two historically oppressed communities battling to secure, or maintain, a place to call home.

USA, 2003, Linda Goode Bryant, Laura Poitras, 86 mins

Flag Wars and Redlines – Programme Notes by Mario Gooden

Principal Huff + Gooden Architects, Associate Professor of Practice at Columbia University, Co-Director Global Africa Lab, author Dark Space: Architecture Representation Black Identity (Columbia University Press, 2016) 

The pleasant neighbourhood of Olde Towne East in Columbus, Ohio has a not-so-pleasant back-story.  Established in the early 1800s, the neighbourhood evolved from an area of family farms to one of the earliest suburbs of Columbus before being annexed into the city in 1870. The area was predominantly white with an economic mix of rich and poor, while Columbus’ small Black population lived scattered around the city.

As the population of African-Americans increased, many settled just north of Olde Towne East and were separated by East Broad Street.  As Blacks expanded east along East Long Street, some white businessman tried to restrict the growth of the African American area. These efforts were reinforced by the Federal Home Loan Bank Board / Home Owners’ Loan Corporation’s policy of ‘redlining’. The Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) federal agency was established in 1933 in response to the mortgage crisis of the Great Depression. In addition to granting loans and introducing standard lending practices, the HOLC also made assessments of major cities and urban areas around the country to determine safe and risky investment areas. Detailed reports for each city were produced along with neighbourhood-by-neighbourhood maps and accompanying area descriptions describing threats to the ‘security’ of a particular area. These areas were graded from A to D and colour-coded based on racial, ethnic, and economic characteristics of residents and potential home buyers.  Areas with African Americans, as well as those with older housing and poorer households, were consistently given a D grade, or ‘Hazardous’ rating, and coloured red. A 1936 HOLC map of Columbus indicates the African American neighbourhood just north of Olde Towne East with the colour red, graded D, and classified as ‘Hazardous’. The Olde Towne East neighbourhood is predominantly coloured yellow, graded C, and classified as ‘Definitely Declining’, with some areas of the neighbourhood coloured blue, graded B, and classified as ‘Still Desirable’. Not only did HOLC maps racialise and segregate housing in terms of its mortgage lending practices; but also, because redlined areas were deemed undesirable, black residents had little if any home equity that could be converted towards the purchase of housing in other areas.

In the 1950s the policy of Urban Renewal resulted in the construction of Interstate 71, which destroyed homes and businesses in the African-American neighbourhood and severed it and Olde Towne East from Columbus’ downtown commercial district. The policy of Urban Renewal disproportionately affected African Americans and other minorities, so much so that writer, activist, and public intellectual James Baldwin referred to Urban Renewal as “Negro Removal”. In the late 1960s and 1970s as white families abandoned the city for the suburbs during ‘White Flight’, Blacks in Columbus began moving into the Olde Towne East neighbourhood as property values became affordable. In Laura Poitras and Linda Goode Bryant’s Flag Wars, Chief Shango Obadina of the Urban Cultural Arts Foundation – in his fight over signage at 1270 Bryden Road and his fight against gentrification by new gay residents – states to Judge Richard Pfeiffer that he purchased the property in 1976 before the Bryden Road Historic District (which he sees as the progenitor to gentrification) was created in 1989. Later in the film, in an interview with a local television news crew, he notes the enormous wealth of the gay male couples who are moving into the neighbourhood, fixing up properties, and increasing home values in comparison to the longer term Black residents who lack the resources to renovate and in some cases even maintain their homes.

Discussions that infer comparisons between the unfair and unequal treatment of the LGBT community and that of the African American community, particularly because of anti-gay hate groups’ protests against flying the Gay Pride flag at the Ohio State House and the Ku Klux Klan white pride march in the film, are myopic at best and at worst ignorant of the historically problematic relationships between African Americans and property. Of course it should go without saying that the foundation of this problematic is rooted in American slavery and the facts that Black slaves were themselves considered property and could not own property because only U.S. citizens could own property. Hence, whites (whether straight or gay) have historically enjoyed the privilege of property and ownership over the rights of African Americans. Furthermore, this white privilege made it possible for whites to accrue wealth based on the systemic and ongoing denial and restrictions to Black’s ownership of property. This white privilege becomes abundantly clear when a young white gay man in the film is struggling to complete the renovation of his recently purchased house without mortgage financing and is at first informed of the difficulties to get a mortgage unless the house is ninety-five percent completed. However, just five minutes later in Flag Wars he is seen signing the closing documents for his new mortgage. Later, at the Near East Area Commission monthly meeting for a vote to build new ‘for sale’ affordable housing the only votes against the motion are from white attendees who fear that the new housing will devalue their properties.

Fifteen years after the original release of the Flag Wars in 2003, perhaps we can now see that what was also at play in the film was the beginning of the overheated housing market of fast money, fast mortgages, and the ability of those with means to renovate and flip houses almost as easily as flipping burgers on a barbeque grill in the back yard. Although the housing market precipitously crashed 2007, as the more than a little inebriated realtor Nina Masseria states in the film, “Capitalism is my middle name. I love to make money… It’s always about money; it always comes down to money.”