In the new documentary Class Divide, within a one-block radius, director Marc Levin captures the different experiences residents of the Elliott-Chelsea housing projects face in comparison to the rich privileged kids who attend a private school just across the street.
It’s a dichotomy that has engulfed a slew of neighborhoods in New York City, including many in Brooklyn where rents have skyrocketed in Bed-Stuy, Bushwick, Williamsburg and Downtown Brooklyn, among many other places. And this is all the product of, you guessed it, gentrification.
Levin zooms in through a high-definition lens on the hyper-gentrification that has taken place in the West Chelsea neighborhood because of the revitalization of the Highline. You’ll meet many families who live in the margins at the Elliott-Chelsea houses, and then those who attend Avenues, a K-12 private school, where tuition can go up to $40,000 annually.
Rosie, a little girl who resides in the projects with her family, is the star of this doc. She dreams of becoming a superstar, and idolizes Beyoncé. But is very wise for her short years, and is cognizant of the changes her neighborhood has rapidly undergone.
She’s also aware of the inequalities and class divides money creates. “I hateee money!” she screams in one scene, and then proceeds to explain why. Besides the tangible economical struggles those living in Rosie’s building face, the film also touches on other social-political issues like immigration. Twelve-year-old Joel lives in the Elliott houses with his Dominican mother, Ecuadorian father who’s an illegal immigrant, and other family members. He doesn’t understand why he has to live so confined, and those kids who go to school across the street live in abundance.
You’ll also see the other side; the kids who relish in good fortune at Avenues, whom seem to be concerned with not being as successful as their parents because of the economy. Others decide to get proactive with the differences, and try to understand why and how they affect others. Like Yasemin, a student at Avenues, who creates a journalistic-style project centered around those inequalities, makes it a point to talk to Elliott residents and understand their differences as she explains her own.
Amid the accounts of those affected—both good and bad—by their social economical differences, Levin also presents the creators of the Highline, Joshua David, a founder of Friends of the Highline, and Ricardo Scofidio, the park’s designer. The real-estate side is also touched upon in the film, and its importance in the luxurious neighborhood.
“In their bones, the public-housing kids know that it’s only a matter of time before they’re forced to leave,” Daniel M. Gold writes in the New York Times about the film. “There’s simply too much hunger for development to withstand. And if that happens, it will come as quickly as the other shifts the neighborhood has endured: in a New York minute.”
While Levin excels at demonstrating the different sides of the spectrum, he fails at showing a solution to the problem. It’s complicated, but it needs resolution; that way, the block that divides these kids’ lives narrows.
Class Divide was screened at the 2016 Urbanworld Film Festival